The prevalence of back pain continues in spite of the many treatments available, without any single treatment being a panacea. In routine clinical practice there has been a tendency of clinical examinations to become more cursory, largely influenced by increasing demands of time and arguably an overreliance upon technology. It has been suggested that the failure to adequately differentially diagnose the cause of back pain can account for clinical failures in treatment. The purpose of this discussion is to assist clinicians in the development of a more specific problem-focused examination to enhance the differential diagnosis of specific pain generators, and therefore lead to more patient-specific treatment. Attention will be given to considering all aspects of the examination, including physical assessment as well as imaging studies, and the ability to rationalize when pathologies seen on imaging studies may or may not be clinically significant. The importance of considering how failed treatments influence the differential diagnosis will also be discussed.
Identify primary and secondary pain generators that contribute to back pain
Describe the clinical utility and limitations of key imaging studies for the differential diagnosis of back pain
Review strategies to enhance routine examinations and use of imaging studies to develop a more patient centered approach to treating back pain