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Back Pain. Neck and Back Pain Study Day January 2013. Anatomy of the Lumbar Spine. Anatomy of the Lumbar Spine. Anatomy: Ligaments. Anatomy: Spinal Musculature. Assessment: Diagnostic Triage. Simple backache (95% of cases) Nerve root pain (<5% of cases)

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back pain

Back Pain

Neck and Back Pain Study Day

January 2013

assessment diagnostic triage
Assessment:Diagnostic Triage
  • Simple backache (95% of cases)
  • Nerve root pain (<5% of cases)
  • Red flag serious spinal pathology (<1% of cases)

(Clinical Standards Advisory Group,1994)

subjective assessment
Subjective Assessment
  • Site, nature and type of pain +/- altered sensation
  • Aggravating and easing factors
  • Diurnal pattern
  • Special questions / red flags
  • History of present episode and previous episodes
  • PMH
  • DH
  • SH
    • Yellow flags
hierarchical list of red flags greenhalgh and selfe 2010
Hierarchical List of Red Flags (Greenhalgh and Selfe, 2010)
  • 4 red flags
    • Age >50 years + history of cancer + unexplained weight loss + failure to improve after 1 month of evidence-based conservative therapy.
  • 3 red flags
    • Age <10 and >51 years
    • Medical h/o (current or past) of: Ca, TB, HIV/AIDS or IVDU, Osteoporosis
    • Weight loss >10% body weight (3-6 months)
    • Severe night pain affecting sleep
    • Loss of sphincter tone and altered S4 sensation
    • Bladder retention or bowel incontinence
    • Positive extensor plantar response
hierarchical list or red flags
Hierarchical List or Red Flags
  • 2 red flags
    • Age 11-19
    • Weight loss 5-10% body weight (3-6 months)
    • Constant progressive pain
    • Abdominal pain and changed bowel habits, but with no change in medication
    • Inability to lie supine
    • Bizarre neurological deficit
    • Spasm
    • Disturbed gait
hierarchical list of red flags
Hierarchical List of Red Flags
  • 1 red flag
    • Loss of mobility,difficulty with stairs,falls,trips
    • Legs misbehave, odd feelings in legs, legs feeling heavy
    • Weight loss <5% body weight (3-6 months)
    • Smoking
    • Systemically unwell
    • Trauma
    • Bilateral pins and needles in hands and/or feet
    • Previous failed treatment
    • Thoracic pain
    • Headache
    • Physical appearance
    • Marked partial articular restriction of movement
group exercise
Group Exercise
  • In your groups you will be given a spinal condition. Discuss:
    • How you would expect a patient with the condition to present:
      • Subjectively
      • Objectively
    • Would any investigations be required
    • How would you manage a patient with this condition
  • Present findings back for wider discussion
acute lbp
Acute LBP
  • At least 80% of individuals will experience a significant episode of LBP in their lifetime
  • LBP for up to 6 weeks
  • Variable type and severity and can fluctuate
  • Can radiate into buttocks and upper legs
  • Sudden or gradual onset
  • Insidious or jarring/strenuous incident
  • Difficult to identify exact cause


  • Reassure: usually benign and self-limiting
  • Pain relief
  • Advise to keep as active as tolerated
  • Physiotherapy
chronic lbp
Chronic LBP
  • LBP present greater than 3 months
  • Variable type, nature and severity of pain
  • Source of pain not known and original injury/source may be completely healed
  • Exact mechanism not fully understood but thought to be due to sensitisation of nerve pathways


  • ? Investigations /referral to MSK CATS service
  • Reassure / empathise
  • Physiotherapy
  • Medications
  • Pain Clinic
sciatica radiculopathy
Sciatica / Radiculopathy
  • Commonly due to a prolapsed disc impinging a nerve root or due to degenerative changes
  • Pain usually unilateral spreading through the buttock and down the back of the leg into the calf or foot
  • Often associated with paraesthesia and occasionally with weakness
  • Severe, shooting in nature aggravated by cough/sneeze


  • Pain medication
  • Reassurance as usually resolves in 2-3 months
  • Cauda Equina symptoms: emergency admission
  • Progressive worsening neuro: refer neurosurgeon
  • Physiotherapy
  • ? MRI
  • Nerve root block
  • Surgical miscrodiscectomy
cauda equina syndrome
Cauda Equina Syndrome
  • Acutely due to large central disc prolapse or more gradually due to degenerative central changes causing compression of the cauda equina or due to sinister causes
  • Bilateral radiating leg pain
  • Saddle Anaesthsia
  • Progressive motor weakness affecting more than one nerve root +/- gait disturbance
  • Urinary retention, altered micturation, overflow incontinence or reduced bladder or urethral sensation
  • Bowel disturbance and loss of anal tone / sensation
  • Sexual dysfunction


  • Emergency admission to A&E for further investigations
spinal stenosis claudication
Spinal Stenosis / Claudication
  • Radiating leg pain, paraesthesia aggravated by walking and standing and distance - limiting
  • Pain progression usually from buttocks to periphery
  • Relief gained by sitting and bending forwards
  • Neurological symptoms (paraesthesia, numbness and/or muscular weakness) also resolve with rest
  • Peripheral pulses normal


  • Medication
  • Physiotherapy
  • ? MRI
  • Referral to neurosurgeon if symptoms severe for possible decompression +/- fusion
osteoporotic wedge fractures
Osteoporotic Wedge fractures
  • Sudden LBP in patients at risk or with osteoporosis
  • May be associated with radicular pain
  • May be no history of injury


  • X-ray, bone density scan
  • If symptoms severe and failing to improve consider referral for vertebroplasty with MRI (to check whether #’s have healed)
  • Physiotherapy
objective assessment practical
Objective Assessment: Practical
  • Observations: deformity, gait, balance
  • Movement: quality, range, limiting factors
  • Neurological assessment: relexes, SLR, PKB, myotomes, dematomes, plantar reflexes
  • Hips
  • SIJ’s
  • Palpation and percussion
general exercises
General Exercises
  • Practical exercise to go through general exercise advise for patients with acute and chronic LBP
  • Discussion on role of Physiotherapy
  • Core stability
  • Pilates and Yoga

Referral Guidelines to Neurosurgery for Patients with Simple Lumbar or Cervical Discogenic/Degenerative Spinal Disease

  • Who Should be Referred?
  • Acute severe radicular arm or leg pain, not showing any improvement with conservative measures (such as physiotherapy) by six weeks following onset. Note that some improvement is likely to imply eventual resolution without requirement for surgery. Pain will be in a nerve root distribution. Neurological symptoms (paraesthesia, numbness and/or muscular weakness) will be in a nerve root distribution and normally exacerbated by cough and/or movement. Progressive neurological symptoms and/or severe radicular pain are indications for urgent referral.
  • Refractive longer term radicular pain (i.e. greater than three months) significantly interfering with lifestyle, disturbing sleep, or causing extended periods off work.
  • Significant spinal claudication, (i.e., radiating leg pain/paraesthesia/numbness coming on with walking and distance-limiting). Pain progression is normally from buttocks to the periphery. Relief is gained by rest and bending forwards. Neurological symptoms (paraesthesia, numbness and/or muscular weakness) also resolve with rest. Peripheral pulses are normal.
  • Patients with signs of myelopathy. All patients should be referred, whether asymptomatic or not, with positive long tract signs or when an MRI has been done and where, even in the absence of long tract signs, there is cord signal change at a stenotic spinal level. Symptoms include numb, clumsy hands, jumping, stiff legs, falls, poor balance and urinary frequency.

Who Shouldn’t be Referred?

  • Patients with referred pain. For the purposes of differential diagnosis, referred arm, leg or neck pain is more generalised in distribution and does not follow a specific nerve root distribution. Pain does not generally spread below the elbow or knee.
  • Patients with degenerative neck or back pain generally have no surgically remedial cause and so should not be referred. Patients should be managed with analgesia, advice and physiotherapy.
  • Patients with non-specific neurological symptoms/somatisation disorder. Such patients should be referred to a neurologist or to the pain clinic.
  • Where radicular pain is significantly improving or resolved.
  • Where there is residual dermatomal numbness following a previous radicular pain episode.
  • Where the patient does not want any surgery (other than patients who are considered to be myelopathic).