OBJECTIVE: Low recovery expectations have been identified as a strong and consistent predictor of poor outcome in non-chronic non-specific low back pain (NSLBP). The aim of this study was to explore how people determine their own recovery expectation during an episode of non-chronic NSLBP. SUBJECTS AND METHODS: In-depth interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of people with non-chronic NSLBP and low recovery expectations. Interviews were audio--recorded and transcribed verbatim. Two researchers independently applied open coding, followed by axial coding to allow themes to emerge from the data using a constant comparison method. RESULTS: The central theme of the person and 4 subthemes of pain, progress, performance, and treatment emerged from the data. The formation of recovery expectations was dependent on the person's unique apprasial of their pain, how the condition had progressed, the limitation of their performance of activities, and the impact of different aspects of treatment. CONCLUSION: Recovery expectation is a person's appraisal of several factors to determine when they are likely to return to their usual activities during an episode of non-chronic NSLBP. Health professionals should explore the person's perception of these factors as part of a tailored intervention to prevent non-chronic NSLBP progressing to chronic NSLBP.