oa South African Family Practice - Chronic low back pain : evaluation and management : CPD



Chronic low back pain is a common problem in primary care. A history and physical examination should place patients into one of several categories: (1) Non-specific low back pain, (2) Back pain associated with radiculopathy or spinal stenosis, (3) Back pain referred from a non-spinal source or (4) Back pain associated with another specific spinal cause.

For patients who have back pain associated with radiculopathy, spinal stenosis, or another specific spinal cause, magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography may establish the diagnosis and guide management. Because evidence ofimproved outcomes is lacking, lumbar spine radiography should be delayed for at least one to two months in patients with nonspecific pain. Acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are first-line medications for chronic low back pain. Tramadol, opioids, and other adjunctive medications may benefit some patients who do not respond to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Acupuncture, exercise therapy, multidisciplinary rehabilitation programs, massage, behaviour therapy, and spinal manipulation are effective in certain clinical situations. Patients with radicular symptoms may benefit from epidural steroid injections, but studies have produced mixed results. Most patients with chronic low back pain will not benefit from surgery. A surgical evaluation may be considered for select patients with functional disabilities or refractory pain despite multiple nonsurgical treatments.


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