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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Unspecific chronic low back pain – a simple functional classification tested in a case series of patients with spinal deformities

Hans-Rudolf Weiss1* and Mario Werkmann2

Author Affiliations

1 Koob-Scolitech, Huehnerhof 100, D-55568 Abtweiler, Germany

2 Orthomed Orthopedic Technical Services, Bad Sobernheim, Germany

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Scoliosis 2009, 4:4  doi:10.1186/1748-7161-4-4

Published: 17 February 2009

Abstract

Background

Up to now, chronic low back pain without radicular symptoms is not classified and attributed in international literature as being "unspecific". For specific bracing of this patient group we use simple physical tests to predict the brace type the patient is most likely to benefit from. Based on these physical tests we have developed a simple functional classification of "unspecific" low back pain in patients with spinal deformities.

Methods

Between January 2006 and July 2007 we have tested 130 patients (116 females and 14 males) with spinal deformities (average age 45 years, ranging from 14 years to 69) and chronic unspecific low back pain (pain for > 24 months) along with the indication for brace treatment for chronic unspecific low back pain. Some of the patients had symptoms of spinal claudication (n = 16). The "sagittal realignment test" (SRT) was applied, a lumbar hyperextension test, and the "sagittal delordosation test" (SDT). Additionally 3 female patients with spondylolisthesis were tested, including one female with symptoms of spinal claudication and 2 of these patients were 14 years of age and the other 43yrs old at the time of testing.

Results

117 Patients reported significant pain release in the SRT and 13 in the SDT (>/= 2 steps in the Roland & Morris VRS). 3 Patients had no significant pain release in both of the tests (< 2 steps in the Roland & Morris VRS).

Pain intensity was high (3,29) before performing the physical tests (VRS-scale 0–5) and low (1,37) while performing the physical test for the whole sample of patients. The differences where highly significant in the Wilcoxon test (z = -3,79; p < 0,0001).

In the 16 patients who did not respond to the SRT in the manual investigation we found hypermobility at L5/S1 or a spondylolisthesis at level L5/S1. In the other patients who responded well to the SRT loss of lumbar lordosis was the main issue, a finding which, according to scientific literature, correlates well with low back pain. The 3 patients who did not respond to either test had a fair pain reduction in a generally delordosing brace with an isolated small foam pad inserted at the level of L 2/3, leading to a lordosation at this region.

Discussion

With the exception of 3 patients (2.3%) a clear distribution to one of the two classes has been possible. 117 patients were supplied successfully with a sagittal realignment test-brace (physio-logic® brace) and 13 with a sagittal delordosing brace (spondylogic® brace). There were patients with scoliosies and hyperkyphosiesbrace). Therefore a clear distribution of the patients from this sample to either chronic postural or chronic instability back pain was possible. In 2.3% a combined chronic low back pain from the findings obtained seems reasonable.

Conclusion

Chronic unspecific low back pain is possible to clearly be classified physically. This functional classification is necessary to decide on which specific conservative approach (physical therapy, braces) should be used.

Other factors than spinal deformities contribute to chronic low back pain.