Low back pain is a common reason for physician visits and is associated with enormous costs to health care and industry. Radiographic abnormalities of the lumbar spine, including disk protrusion, are common in asymptomatic subjects and only loosely associated with symptoms and neurologic examination. Therefore, highly selective evaluation is required to avoid subjecting patients with back pain to unnecessary tests and surgical procedures. Reassurance about the favorable prognosis of low back pain is an important component of therapy. Most patients with simple back pain recover with symptomatic treatment. Plain radiographs are indicated for evaluation of patients with radiculopathy and those with risk factors for underlying medical conditions. The majority of patients with back pain, even those with radiculopathy, improve with conservative management and surgery is unnecessary. Surgical consultation and CT or MR imaging scans are indicated for patients with persistent or progressive neurologic deficits or persistent sciatica with nerve root tension signs. Acute radiculopathy with bilateral neurologic deficits, saddle anesthesia, or urinary symptoms is suggestive of cord compression or cauda equina syndrome and requires urgent surgical referral.
ASJC Scopus subject areas