Narratives of life with long-term low back pain: A follow up interview study

Sanne Angel, Lone Donbæk Jensen, Thomas Maribo, Birgitte Krøis Gonge, Niels Buus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Background Long-term low back pain is associated with multiple challenges to a person's identity and social position. Despite efforts to understand the challenges of low back pain, recovery remains a major problem both personally and socially. This indicate a need for a different approach. Although personal stories have been used to extend knowledge of issues that relate to low back pain, they also make it possible to learn about how people understand themselves and their lives. As such, analysis of narratives may provide further insights into people's coping processes and novel insights about how best to support them. Objective The aim of the study was to analyse personal recovery narratives to gain an insight into how people understand themselves and cope with long-term low back pain 2–4 years after a bio-psycho-social counselling intervention. Study design Using a Ricoeurian phenomenological-hermeneutic perspective, qualitative in-depth interviews were undertaken and interpreted to explore people's narratives of long-term recovery after an intervention. Methods We interviewed 25 informants 2–4 years after participating in a counselling intervention for low back pain where they were advised to exercise regularly; they were part of the intervention group in a randomised clinical trial. The sample included both informants who had benefited from the intervention and some who had not. Analysis was informed by Ricoeur's interpretation theory. Findings The informants’ stories revealed two main narratives regarding themselves and their lives: (1) getting on with life without pain, (2) life with continual pain and variations of the emplotment. The first included Recovering from low back pain and returning to prior lifestyle if possible, Keeping low back pain in check by strict regimes, or Developing strategies when low back pain recurs. The second related to Finding a way to a functioning everyday life with continual pain while narratives of being stuck with low back pain and finding no way out highlight the significance of being able to configure a narrative that can support an understanding of the pain and how to deal with it to have a functioning life. Furthermore, the health professional has a significant role to play in the configuration of narratives. Conclusions The challenge for people with low back pain was to find ways of getting on with life, and this included their ability to configure an understandable narrative that opened up for a future, implying new understandings of the self and how life could be lived. When healthcare professionals offered personal and realistic suggestions to the informants’ configuration of narratives of life with low back pain, they supported a positive change in the informants’ ways of coping with their situation. Implications Health professionals can play an important role in low back pain sufferers’ configuration of meaningful narratives that help in coping with pain and learning about the relationship between pain and everyday life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)382-389
Number of pages8
JournalScandinavian Journal of Pain
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Chronic disease
  • Illness behaviour
  • Intervention studies
  • Low back pain
  • Narration
  • Rehabilitation

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