Mechanical Low Back Pain Follow-up

Updated: Nov 22, 2022
  • Author: Everett C Hills, MD, MS; Chief Editor: Stephen Kishner, MD, MHA  more...
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Further Outpatient Care

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  • The proper application of physical therapy, analgesic medications, and selected injections (when warranted) can produce a positive impact on the functional outcome of mechanical low back pain (LBP).

  • Careful and complete history gathering, objective physical examinations, and clearly prescribed therapeutic interventions are fundamental in the management of mechanical LBP.

  • Patients may need regular follow-up and careful monitoring to ensure a positive outcome. Structured daily activity is crucial to encourage patients to realize that their efforts result in a positive outcome.

  • The most successful management of mechanical LBP comes from an interdisciplinary team approach of physicians, therapists, counselors, and case managers.

  • Sometimes, the physician needs to return to the history when if a puzzling clinical presentation that cannot be resolved.

  • Ensuring care between the physicians and therapists is coordinated, evidence-based medical practices are being used, and certain published guidelines are being considered may help achieve the optimum treatment for LBP patients.


Further Inpatient Care

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  • Mechanical low back pain (LBP) generally is treated in an outpatient setting. Inpatient care may be appropriate in some cases when compelling evidence of neurological deficits is present along with an accompanying history of infection, malignancy, and/or trauma. The initial medical workup should be performed in the general acute hospital setting.

    • Patients who are elderly or severely disabled with no social support may need to be admitted into a medical setting for diagnostic studies and therapeutic interventions.

    • A comprehensive interdisciplinary approach combines the medical management of the pain with the functional restoration of motion and activities of daily living that is achieved through physical and occupational therapy.

    • More varied modalities can be used in the rehabilitation unit (eg, aquatic therapy, other physical modalities), as can counseling for the patient and his or her family. Psychological counseling may be more readily available in the rehabilitation unit, compared with the general medical or surgical unit.


Inpatient & Outpatient Medications

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  • The most commonly prescribed medications for mechanical low back pain (LBP) are NSAIDs, muscle relaxants, opioid and nonopioid analgesics, and antidepressants.

    • NSAIDs provide satisfactory analgesic relief for most cases of mechanical LBP. NSAIDs are very easy to obtain in prescribed formulations and as over-the-counter preparations.

    • Muscle relaxants, in combination with the NSAIDs, may provide symptomatic relief to the low back musculature and promote more freedom of movement.

    • Opioid medications generally are not used as first-line treatments for mechanical LBP.

    • Nonopioid medications are being combined with NSAIDs to achieve adequate pain relief without the adverse effects of opioid medications.

    • Antidepressants are helpful adjuncts to the bio-psycho-social effects of chronic LBP.



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  • Patients with mechanical low back pain (LBP) may present to their family physicians or to the emergency department of a hospital or clinic. After determining the patient has no life-threatening cause for the mechanical LBP (eg, tumor on the spine, fracture of the axial spine), consideration should be given to transferring the patient to an appropriate outpatient care facility or to an inpatient rehabilitation unit for pain management, reconditioning of muscles, and preventive treatment.



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  • Prevention of most cases of mechanical low back pain (LBP) can be achieved using good biomechanical principles when performing heavy manual labor. Deterrence and prevention information is mostly anecdotal and depends on education and raising the awareness levels of individuals at risk for developing mechanical LBP.



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  • Complex social, legal, and economic issues tend to produce most of the complications surrounding mechanical low back pain (LBP). A full account of these issues is beyond the scope of this article. The following complicating factors have been associated with extended care of LBP and should be viewed as "yellow flags" to help the physician explore other causes to the chronic spinal condition being presented:

    • Trauma

    • Greater than 4 separate episodes of LBP

    • Sciatica defined as pain extending below the knees

    • Skeletal anomalies

    • Heavy smoking

    • Multilevel degenerative joint disease

    • Job dissatisfaction

    • Job disability in previous 12 months

    • Psychological distress and abnormal illness behavior (eg, positive Waddell signs, pain consistently rated 9/10, pain avoidance behavior, symptom proliferation, total body pain, collapsing or inability to move)

  • In an informal survey of chiropractors who were asked to rate the top 10 "back-breaking jobs," the number 1 job was heavy truck driving. Following, in no particular order, are the next 9 jobs:

    • Construction worker

    • Landscaper

    • Police officer (due to long hours sitting in a car then having to respond to a call for help)

    • Farmer (because self-employment, tend to respond rapidly to pain management interventions)

    • Roofers (often in awkward, bending positions for long periods)

    • Firefighters and emergency medical technicians

    • Delivery drivers

    • Nursing home workers

    • Auto mechanics



The prognosis is good for recovery from mechanical low back pain (LBP). At 1 month, 35% of patients can be expected to recover; at 3 months, 85% have recovered; and at 6 months, 95% have recovered.

Failure of a patient to recover should lead the clinician into a more thorough and extensive search into the cause of the back pain, including the possibility of recurrent back injuries.

Recurrence at 1 year is 62%. At 2 years, 80% of patients have had 1 or more recurrences. The question remains whether this is the inevitable result of natural aging, continued pathologic processes, somatization, or a combination of all of these. Clearly, much more research is required.

A prospective cohort study by Mehling et al reviewed outcome measures for recovery in primary-care patients with recent-onset acute LBP. Since a consensus does not exist about outcome definitions or how to identify when patients have failed to recover from an episode of LBP, the authors suggest that a combination of ratings from perceived recovery scales along with pain and disability measures be used as a highly accurate way to identify recovery. [43]

A study by Imagama et al indicated that in patients with chronic LBP, factors that negatively impact the outcome of pharmacologic therapy for the condition include neuropathic pain at baseline, Tramacet use at baseline, use of weak opioids at baseline, older age, lengthy disease duration, a history of spinal surgery, and smoking. [44]


Patient Education

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  • Patient education should begin with reassurance and a management plan, even though a precise pathoanatomic diagnosis may not be possible.

  • The importance of educating patients to understand that uncomplicated mechanical low back pain (LBP) has a natural course of recovery cannot be overemphasized.

  • One consistent finding from a review of the literature is that people who are depressed, have poor job satisfaction, and can receive compensation as long as their backs hurt have an increased prevalence of mechanical LBP that develops into chronic disability.

  • Deal with external factors that influence recovery, including anxiety, and increase the patient's understanding of the expectations of key players (eg, family, physician, employer) compared with his or her own goals.

  • Posture, reconditioning, proper nutrition, and stress management also should be addressed.

  • For patient education resources, see the patient education articles Low Back Pain, Sprains and Strains, and Pain Medications.