Patient education is recommended as first-line care for low back pain (LBP), although its efficacy for providing clinically meaningful reductions in disability has been questioned. One way to improve treatment effects is to identify and improve targeting of treatment mechanisms. We conducted a pre-planned causal mediation analysis of a randomized, placebo-controlled trial investigating the effectiveness of patient education for patients with acute LBP. 202 patients who had fewer than six-weeks' duration of LBP and were at high-risk of developing chronic LBP completed two, one-hour treatment sessions of either intensive patient education, or placebo patient education. 189 participants provided data for the outcome self-reported disability at three-months and the mediators, pain self-efficacy, pain catastrophizing, and back beliefs at one-week post treatment. This causal mediation analysis found that pain catastrophizing (mediated effect, -0.64; 95% Confidence Interval [CI], -1.31 to -0.15) and back beliefs (mediated effect, -0.51; 95% CI, -1.15 to -0.02) partly explained the effect of patient education on disability but pain self-efficacy did not (mediated effect, -0.40; 95% CI -1.13 to 0.28). Considering the mediator-outcome relationship, patient education would need to induce an 8 point difference on the pain self-efficacy questionnaire (0-60); an 11 point difference on the back beliefs questionnaire (9-45); and a 21 point difference on the pain catastrophizing scale (0-52) to achieve a minimally clinically important difference of 2 points on the Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire (0-24).