July 1st 2003
ABSTRACT: When a patient presents with low back pain, ask about the location and quality of the pain, what makes the pain increase or decrease, associated symptoms, and risk factors. Clues to systemic causes of low back pain include fever; arthritis; iritis; signs and/or symptoms of GI disease, pelvic disease, or renal disease; tachycardia; and integumentary abnormalities. Perform a neurovascular evaluation as well as a detailed musculoskeletal examination. Imaging studies are not necessary for most patients initially. Acute therapy consists of the application of cold and heat and analgesics such as acetaminophen or an NSAID. Early exercise-not bed rest-is the cornerstone of treatment. Follow-up is mandatory: in 3 to 7 days for patients with severe pain, inconsistent findings, mild neurologic abnormalities, or a history of progres- sive symptoms; and in 10 to 14 days for patients with no neurologic compromise.