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An Evidence-Based Approach To The Evaluation And Treatment Of Low Back Pain In The Emergency Department

July 2013


Low back pain is the most common musculoskeletal complaint that results in a visit to the emergency department, and it is 1 of the top 5 most common complaints in emergency medicine. Estimates of annual healthcare expenditures for low back pain in the United States exceed $90 billion annually, not even taking lost productivity and business costs into account. This review explores an evidence-based rationale for the evaluation of the patient with low back pain, and it provides guidance on risk stratification pertaining to laboratory assessment and radiologic imaging in the emergency department. Published guidelines from the American College of Physicians and American Pain Society are reviewed, with emphasis on best evidence for pharmacologic treatments, self-care interventions, and more invasive procedures and surgery in management of low back pain. Utilizing effective and proven strategies will avoid medical errors, provide better care for pa- tients, and help manage healthcare resources and costs.

Key Words: low back pain, herniated disc, sciatica, cauda equina syndrome, radiculopathy, NSAID, acetaminophen, muscle relaxant, opioid, fusion, discectomy, laminectomy, epidural steroid injection

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