Making Sense of Low Back Pain


In 1987, the Quebec Taskforce noted, "Distinct patterns of reliable clinical findings are the only logical basis for back pain categorization and subsequent treatment." Identifying these patterns begins with the patient's history: "Where is your pain the worst?" "Is your pain constant or intermittent?" "Has there been any change in your bowel or bladder function?" This questioning establishes the mechanical nature of the pain, and a physical examination verifies or refutes the pattern established in the history. The examination involves two essential tests to detect upper motor and low sacral root involvement. A failure of the results to fit into one of four syndromes—two back dominant and two leg dominant—suggests a non-mechanical or more complex problem.
Key words: patterns of back pain, pain location, pain characteristics, history, physical examination.