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      Low-back pain at the emergency department: still not being managed?

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          Low-back pain (LBP) affects about 40% of people at some point in their lives. In the presence of “red flags”, further tests must be done to rule out underlying problems; however, biomedical imaging is currently overused. LBP involves large in-hospital and out-of-hospital economic costs, and it is also the most common musculoskeletal disorder seen in emergency departments (EDs).

          Patients and methods

          This retrospective observational study enrolled 1,298 patients admitted to the ED, including all International Classification of Diseases 10 diagnosis codes for sciatica, lumbosciatica, and lumbago. We collected patients’ demographic data, medical history, lab workup and imaging performed at the ED, drugs administered at the ED, ED length of stay (LOS), numeric rating scale pain score, admission to ward, and ward LOS data. Thereafter, we performed a cost analysis.


          Mean numeric rating scale scores were higher than 7/10. Home medication consisted of no drug consumption in up to 90% of patients. Oxycodone–naloxone was the strong opioid most frequently prescribed for the home. Once at the ED, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and opiates were administered to up to 72% and 42% of patients, respectively. Imaging was performed in up to 56% of patients. Mean ED LOS was 4 hours, 14 minutes. A total of 43 patients were admitted to a ward. The expense for each non-ward-admitted patient was approximately €200 in the ED, while the mean expense for ward-admitted patients was €9,500, with a mean LOS of 15 days.


          There is not yet a defined therapeutic care process for the patient with LBP with clear criteria for an ED visit. It is to this end that we need a clinical pathway for the prehospital management of LBP syndrome and consequently for an in-hospital time-saving therapeutic approach to the patient.

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          Most cited references 11

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          Imaging strategies for low-back pain: systematic review and meta-analysis.

          Some clinicians do lumbar imaging routinely or in the absence of historical or clinical features suggestive of serious low-back problems. We investigated the effects of routine, immediate lumbar imaging versus usual clinical care without immediate imaging on clinical outcomes in patients with low-back pain and no indication of serious underlying conditions. We analysed randomised controlled trials that compared immediate lumbar imaging (radiography, MRI, or CT) versus usual clinical care without immediate imaging for low-back pain. These trials reported pain or function (primary outcomes), quality of life, mental health, overall patient-reported improvement (based on various scales), and patient satisfaction in care received. Six trials (n=1804) met inclusion criteria. Study quality was assessed by two independent reviewers with criteria adapted from the Cochrane Back Review Group. Meta-analyses were done with a random effects model. We did not record significant differences between immediate lumbar imaging and usual care without immediate imaging for primary outcomes at either short-term (up to 3 months, standardised mean difference 0.19, 95% CI -0.01 to 0.39 for pain and 0.11, -0.29 to 0.50 for function, negative values favour routine imaging) or long-term (6-12 months, -0.04, -0.15 to 0.07 for pain and 0.01, -0.17 to 0.19 for function) follow-up. Other outcomes did not differ significantly. Trial quality, use of different imaging methods, and duration of low-back pain did not affect the results, but analyses were limited by small numbers of trials. Results are most applicable to acute or subacute low-back pain assessed in primary-care settings. Lumbar imaging for low-back pain without indications of serious underlying conditions does not improve clinical outcomes. Therefore, clinicians should refrain from routine, immediate lumbar imaging in patients with acute or subacute low-back pain and without features suggesting a serious underlying condition.
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            Diagnosis and treatment of acute low back pain.

            Acute low back pain is one of the most common reasons for adults to see a family physician. Although most patients recover quickly with minimal treatment, proper evaluation is imperative to identify rare cases of serious underlying pathology. Certain red flags should prompt aggressive treatment or referral to a spine specialist, whereas others are less concerning. Serious red flags include significant trauma related to age (i.e., injury related to a fall from a height or motor vehicle crash in a young patient, or from a minor fall or heavy lifting in a patient with osteoporosis or possible osteoporosis), major or progressive motor or sensory deficit, new-onset bowel or bladder incontinence or urinary retention, loss of anal sphincter tone, saddle anesthesia, history of cancer metastatic to bone, and suspected spinal infection. Without clinical signs of serious pathology, diagnostic imaging and laboratory testing often are not required. Although there are numerous treatments for nonspecific acute low back pain, most have little evidence of benefit. Patient education and medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, acetaminophen, and muscle relaxants are beneficial. Bed rest should be avoided if possible. Exercises directed by a physical therapist, such as the McKenzie method and spine stabilization exercises, may decrease recurrent pain and need for health care services. Spinal manipulation and chiropractic techniques are no more effective than established medical treatments, and adding them to established treatments does not improve outcomes. No substantial benefit has been shown with oral steroids, acupuncture, massage, traction, lumbar supports, or regular exercise programs.
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              Organization of acute pain services: a low-cost model.

              It is being increasingly recognized that the solution to the problem of inadequate postoperative pain relief lies not so much in development of new techniques but in development of a formal organization for better use of existing techniques. Acute Pain Services (APS) are being increasingly established to provide good quality postoperative analgesia. In the United States such 24-h services usually consist of anesthesiologists, residents, specially trained nurses and pharmacists. However, less than 30% of US surgical population has access to APS. Furthermore, only patients selected by surgeons receive the benefits of these services. Additionally, the economic costs of such services are high (> or = $200/patient). Less expensive alternatives have to be developed if the aim is to improve the quality of postoperative analgesia for every patient after any type of surgery. Sophisticated analgesia techniques such as epidural and patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) are neither necessary nor realistic for the majority of patients. Our nurse-based anesthesiologist-supervised model is based on the concept that postoperative pain relief can be greatly improved by provision of in-service training for surgical nursing staff, optimal use of systemic opioids and use of regional analgesia techniques and PCA in selected patients. Regular recording of each patient's pain intensity by VAS every 3 h and recording of treatment efficacy on a bedside vital-sign chart are the cornerstones of this model. A VAS greater than 3 is promptly treated. Surgeon and ward nurse participation are crucial in this organization.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

                Author and article information

                Ther Clin Risk Manag
                Ther Clin Risk Manag
                Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management
                Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management
                Dove Medical Press
                12 February 2016
                : 12
                : 183-187
                [1 ]Department of Anesthesia and Intensive Care, Academic Hospital of Udine, University of Udine, Udine, Italy
                [2 ]Pain Medicine and Palliative Care, Health Company Number 2, Gorizia, Italy
                [3 ]Emergency Department, Academic Hospital of Udine, Udine, Italy
                Author notes
                Correspondence: Luca Miceli, Department of Anesthesia and Intensive Care, Academic Hospital of Udine, University of Udine, Piazzale Santa Maria della Misericordia number 10, Udine 33100, Italy, Tel +39 347 450 7997, Fax +39 0432 559 502, Email miceli.luca@ 123456aoud.sanita.fvg.it
                © 2016 Rizzardo et al. This work is published and licensed by Dove Medical Press Limited

                The full terms of this license are available at https://www.dovepress.com/terms.php and incorporate the Creative Commons Attribution – Non Commercial (unported, v3.0) License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/). By accessing the work you hereby accept the Terms. Non-commercial uses of the work are permitted without any further permission from Dove Medical Press Limited, provided the work is properly attributed.

                Original Research


                low-back pain, health policies, emergency department, cost analysis


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