OBJECTIVES--To design a questionnaire for the identification and assessment of severity of back pain for epidemiological purposes, and gain preliminary experience of its use. METHODS--A group of specialists, experienced in the epidemiology and clinical assessment of back pain, designed the questionnaire, and tested it individually. It was also given cross sectionally by interview to a population of male coal mine workers. RESULTS--The questionnaire comprised a maximum of 12 questions on the presence, radiation, frequency, and severity of back pain with reference to difficulty with specific activities, interference with normal work, and absence from work. 471 coal miners answered the questionnaire (66% of those invited). 56% (265 men) of the responders reported pain or ache in the back during the previous 12 months, and the incidence of first ever attacks during the same period was reported to be 34%. 69% reported having had back pain at some time. The responses to the questionnaire were partially validated by comparison with certified sickness absence for two days or more attributed to back pain. In men who were symptomatic in the previous 12 months, for the question relating to absence from work because of back pain, the sensitivity was 82% and specificity was 84%. CONCLUSION--The questionnaire is easy to administer and generates clear cut data that could be useful for epidemiological or screening purposes. Preliminary, limited, studies of its validity are reasonably encouraging, although further validation is required. It is hoped that researchers will find the questionnaire useful, will extend its validation, and continue to develop it.
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