Making sense of non-specific low back pain
: A Grounded Theory approach

  • Ben Hodgson

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Low back pain (LBP) is a common health condition and is the leading cause of disability worldwide. For the majority of patients with LBP there is no identifiable patho-anatomical cause for the pain resulting in the label non-specific low back pain (NSLBP). It is important to understand how the perceptions, experience and impact of a musculoskeletal condition such as NSLBP might influence an individual’s interpretation and response to it. The aim of this study was to explore how individuals with NSLBP made sense of their diagnosis.

Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of six patients attending a physiotherapy department in the United Kingdom. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and a Constructivist Grounded Theory approach was used as a framework for data analysis.

Three categories emerged to describe the various ways in which the participants attempted to make sense of their diagnosis. 1. Constructing an explanatory framework, 2. Negotiating conflict and 3. Coping with the back pain. The overall process was conceptualised as ‘Adapting to the back pain’.

The findings of this study contribute to our understanding of the experiences of individuals with NSLBP. Healthcare professionals may need to consider the importance of the explanatory frameworks used for patients with NSLBP and how this impacts on the patient’s experience. This may require a shift from a biomedical model of diagnosis to a more co-constructed understanding recognising the complex interactions between the biological, psychological and social aspects of NSLBP.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorNicola Petty (Supervisor), Krishna Garikipati (Supervisor) & Guy Canby (Supervisor)


  • Non-specific low back pain
  • grounded theory
  • qualitative research
  • patient experience
  • biopsychosocial

Cite this