Differential Diagnosis of Low Back Pain

Author: David M. Glick

The prevalence of back pain continues in spite of the many treatments available, without any single treatment being a panacea. In routine clinical practice there has been a tendency of clinical examinations to become more cursory, largely influenced by increasing demands of time and arguably an over reliance upon technology. It has been suggested that the failure to adequately differentially diagnose the cause of back pain can account for clinical failures in treatment.

The purpose of this discussion is assist clinician in the development of a more specific problem focused examination that can enhance the differential diagnosis of specific pain generators, and therefore lead to more patient specific treatment. Attention will be given to considering all aspects of the examination, including physical assessment as well as imaging studies, and the ability to rationalize when pathologies seen on imaging studies may or may not be clinically significant. The importance of considering how failed treatments influence the differential diagnosis will also be discussed.

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