Diagnosis is made by eliminating specific lower back pain causes of neurologic compromise, neoplasia, inflammatory arthritis, fracture, or referred pain from other locations or organ systems.
Pain, stiffness, and/or soreness of the lumbosacral region are the symptoms. May be acute (lasting <4 weeks), subacute (4 to 12 weeks), or chronic (>12 weeks).
Patient education, return to normal activity, and self-care temperature treatments (ice, heat) are the first steps in therapy.
Oral pharmacotherapy (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, acetaminophen, and muscle relaxants) is used for pain control.
Opioids may be prescribed for severe pain. Physical therapy is indicated for pain lasting >4 to 6 weeks, although data to support this are inconclusive.
Musculoskeletal lower back pain is pain, stiffness, and/or soreness of the lumbosacral region (underneath the twelfth rib and above the gluteal folds). Lower back pain is subdivided by time frame into acute lower back pain lasting <4 weeks, subacute lower back pain lasting 4 to 12 weeks, and chronic lower back pain lasting >12 weeks. An exclusion diagnosis is made by eliminating specific causes of lower back pain arising from neurologic compromise, neoplasia, inflammatory arthritis, fracture, and referred pain from other locations or organ systems. The exact cause of pain is often impossible to identify precisely, but arises from any combination of pathology involving disks, vertebrae, facet joints, ligaments, and/or muscles.
History and exam
- obesity, stress, and psychiatric comorbidities
- history of prior lower back pain
- history of prior treatment
- pain radiation does not extend beyond the knee
- absence of red-flag symptoms
- absence of fever, fluctuance, exquisite tenderness to palpation
- sensory, motor, and deep-tendon reflex exams within normal limits
- negative straight- or crossed straight-leg raise test
Professor and Vice Chair
Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
University of Miami Miller School of Medicine
AS declares that he has no competing interests.
Dr Andrew Sherman would like to gratefully acknowledge Dr Robert W. Irwin, Dr Louise Thwaites, Dr Karen Walker-Bone, Dr Joanne Borg-Stein, and Dr Philip Chiou, previous contributors to this topic. RWI, LT, KWB, JBS, and PC declare that they have no competing interests.
Orthopedic and Arthritis Center
Brigham and Women's Hospital
JB declares that she has no competing interests.
Interventional Spine Physiatrist
Pain Medicine Specialist
AGC declares that he has no competing interests.
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