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Low back pain clinical practice guidelines linked to the International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health from the Orthopaedic Section of the American Physical Therapy Association [with consumer summary]
Delitto A, George SZ, Dillen LV, Whitman JM, Sowa G, Shekelle P, Denninger TR, Godges JJ [Orthopaedic Section of the American Physical Therapy Association]
The Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy 2012 Apr;42(4):A1-A57
practice guideline

RISK FACTORS: Current literature does not support a definitive cause for initial episodes of low back pain. Risk factors are multifactorial, population specific, and only weakly associated with the development of low back pain (recommendation based on moderate evidence). CLINICAL COURSE: The clinical course of low back pain can be described as acute, subacute, recurrent, or chronic. Given the high prevalence of recurrent and chronic low back pain and the associated costs, clinicians should place high priority on interventions that prevent (1) recurrences and (2) the transition to chronic low back pain (recommendation based on theoretical/foundational evidence). DIAGNOSIS/CLASSIFICATION: Low back pain, without symptoms or signs of serious medical or psychological conditions, associated with clinical findings of (1) mobility impairment in the thoracic, lumbar, or sacroiliac regions, (2) referred or radiating pain into a lower extremity, and (3) generalized pain, is useful for classifying a patient with low back pain into the following International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) categories: low back pain, lumbago, lumbosacral segmental/somatic dysfunction, low back strain, spinal instabilities, flatback syndrome, lumbago due to displacement of intervertebral disc, lumbago with sciatica, and the associated International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (ICF) impairment-based category of low back pain (b28013 Pain in back, b28018 Pain in body part, specified as pain in buttock, groin, and thigh) and the following, corresponding impairments of body function: acute or subacute low back pain with mobility deficits (b7101 Mobility of several joints); acute, subacute, or chronic low back pain with movement coordination impairments (b7601 Control of complex voluntary movements); acute low back pain with related (referred) lower extremity pain (b28015 Pain in lower limb); acute, subacute, or chronic low back pain with radiating pain (b2804 Radiating pain in a segment or region); acute or subacute low back pain with related cognitive or affective tendencies (b2703 Sensitivity to a noxious stimulus, b1522 Range of emotion, b1608 Thought functions, specified as the tendency to elaborate physical symptoms for cognitive/ideational reasons, b1528 Emotional functions, specified as the tendency to elaborate physical symptoms for emotional/affective reasons); chronic low back pain with related generalized pain (b2800 Generalized pain, b1520 Appropriateness of emotion, b1602 Content of thought). DIFFERENTIAL DIAGNOSIS: Clinicians should consider diagnostic classifications associated with serious medical conditions or psychosocial factors and initiate referral to the appropriate medical practitioner when (1) the patient's clinical findings are suggestive of serious medical or psychological pathology, (2) the reported activity limitations or impairments of body function and structure are not consistent with those presented in the diagnosis/classification section of these guidelines, or (3) the patient's symptoms are not resolving with interventions aimed at normalization of the patient's impairments of body function (recommendation based on strong evidence). EXAMINATION -- OUTCOME MEASURES: Clinicians should use validated self-report questionnaires, such as the Oswestry Disability Index and the Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire. These tools are useful for identifying a patient's baseline status relative to pain, function, and disability and for monitoring a change in a patient's status throughout the course of treatment (recommendation based on strong evidence). EXAMINATION -- ACTIVITY LIMITATION AND PARTICIPATION RESTRICTION MEASURES: Clinicians should routinely assess activity limitation and participation restriction through validated performance-based measures. Changes in the patient's level of activity limitation and participation restriction should be monitored with these same measures over the course of treatment (recommendation based on expert opinion). INTERVENTIONS -- MANUAL THERAPY: Clinicians should consider utilizing thrust manipulative procedures to reduce pain and disability in patients with mobility deficits and acute low back and back-related buttock or thigh pain. Thrust manipulative and nonthrust mobilization procedures can also be used to improve spine and hip mobility and reduce pain and disability in patients with subacute and chronic low back and back-related lower extremity pain (recommendation based on strong evidence). INTERVENTIONS -- TRUNK COORDINATION, STRENGTHENING, AND ENDURANCE EXERCISES: Clinicians should consider utilizing trunk coordination, strengthening, and endurance exercises to reduce low back pain and disability in patients with sub-acute and chronic low back pain with movement coordination impairments and in patients post lumbar microdiscectomy (recommendation based on strong evidence). INTERVENTIONS -- CENTRALIZATION AND DIRECTIONAL PREFERENCE EXERCISES AND PROCEDURES: Clinicians should consider utilizing repeated movements, exercises, or procedures to promote centralization to reduce symptoms in patients with acute low back pain with related (referred) lower extremity pain. Clinicians should consider using repeated exercises in a specific direction determined by treatment response to improve mobility and reduce symptoms in patients with acute, subacute, or chronic low back pain with mobility deficits (recommendation based on strong evidence). INTERVENTIONS -- FLEXION EXERCISES: Clinicians can consider flexion exercises, combined with other interventions such as manual therapy, strengthening exercises, nerve mobilization procedures, and progressive walking, for reducing pain and disability in older patients with chronic low back pain with radiating pain(recommendation based on weak evidence). INTERVENTIONS -- LOWER-QUARTER NERVE MOBILIZATION PROCEDURES: Clinicians should consider utilizing lower-quarter nerve mobilization procedures to reduce pain and disability in patients with subacute and chronic low back pain and radiating pain (recommendation based on weak evidence). INTERVENTIONS -- TRACTION: There is conflicting evidence for the efficacy of intermittent lumbar traction for patients with low back pain. There is preliminary evidence that a subgroup of patients with signs of nerve root compression along with peripheralization of symptoms or a positive crossed straight leg raise will benefit from intermittent lumbar traction in the prone position. There is moderate evidence that clinicians should not utilize intermittent or static lumbar traction for reducing symptoms in patients with acute or subacute, nonradicular low back pain or patients with chronic low back pain (recommendation based on conflicting evidence). INTERVENTIONS -- PATIENT EDUCATION AND COUNSELING: Clinicians should not utilize patient education and counseling strategies that either directly or indirectly increase the perceived threat or fear associated with low back pain, such as education and counseling strategies that (1) promote extended bed-rest or (2) provide in-depth, pathoanatomical explanations for the specific cause of the patient's low back pain. Patient education and counseling strategies for patients with low back pain should emphasize (1) the promotion of the understanding of the anatomical/structural strength inherent in the human spine, (2) the neuroscience that explains pain perception, (3) the overall favorable prognosis of low back pain, (4) the use of active pain coping strategies that decrease fear and catastrophizing, (5) the early resumption of normal or vocational activities, even when still experiencing pain, and (6) the importance of improvement in activity levels, not just pain relief(recommendation based on moderate evidence). INTERVENTIONS -- PROGRESSIVE ENDURANCE EXERCISE AND FITNESS ACTIVITIES: Clinicians should consider (1) moderate- to high-intensity exercise for patients with chronic low back pain without generalized pain, and (2) incorporating progressive, low-intensity, submaximal fitness and endurance activities into the pain management and health promotion strategies for patients with chronic low back pain with generalized pain (recommendation based on strong evidence).

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