Feature Article

Low back pain: a simple protocol for GPs

Richard C Hudson



A diagnostic triage can help GPs choose the appropriate management strategy for patients presenting with low back pain.

Key Points

  • One of the most common fears of any health professional treating back pain is that he or she will miss the patient with serious pathology.
  • Patients presenting with low back pain should be placed into one of three diagnostic categories, thereby aiding practical management.
  • Mechanical back pain is very common; it is usually self-limiting, resolving spontaneously in five to 10 days.
  • Patients with nerve root pain usually present with unilateral pain radiating down to below the knee.
  • The presence of red flags, or warning signs, may indicate a serious cause of low back pain, such as a tumour, infection, inflammatory disorder or the cauda equina syndrome.