McCluskey, Serena, Brooks, Joanna, King, Nigel and Burton, A. Kim (2013) The influence of 'significant others' on work participation in those with persistent back pain. Orthopaedic Proceedings: a Supplement of the Bone and Joint Journal, 95-B (17). p. 23.

Background Individual illness perceptions have been shown to be important influences on both clinical and work outcomes for those with back pain, yet the influence of ‘significant others’ (spouse/partner/close family member) illness perceptions is rarely explored, particularly in relation to work participation.

Method Semi-structured interviews based on the Illness Perceptions Questionnaire were conducted with two purposive samples of chronic back pain patients (working and work disabled), along with their significant others (n=28). Data were analysed using template analysis.

Results The significant others of patients who were work disabled tended to reinforce the patients' limitations and negative consequences of the back pain condition on every aspect of their lives. They believed that patients needed to be pain-free in order to resume work, and equated treatment success with complete removal of pain. Overall, they perceived patients to be blameless victims. In contrast, the significant others of patients who had managed to remain at work despite persistent back pain focused instead on what the patient could still do, were more accepting of treatment as providing pain management rather than a cure, and tended to describe patients as being stoical and heroic.

Conclusions This exploratory in-depth research reveals novel and interesting insights about the illness beliefs of significant others in relation to persistent back pain, and highlights the wider social circumstances that may act as barriers/facilitators to work participation