Managing Back Dominant Pain

Hamilton Hall, MD, FRCSC,1 Julia Alleyne, BHSc(PT), MD, CCFP, Dip. Sport Med MScCH,2 Yoga Raja Rampersaud, MD, FRCSC,3

1Professor, Department of Surgery, University of Toronto; Medical Director, Canadian Back Institute; Executive Director, Canadian Spine Society, Toronto, ON.
2Associate Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Toronto, Medical Director, Sport CARE, Women’s College Hospital, Toronto, ON.
3Associate Professor Department of Surgery, University of Toronto, Divisions of Orthopaedic and Neurosurgery, University Health Network Medical Director, Back and Neck Specialty Program, Altum Health, Immediate Past President Canadian Spine Society, Toronto, ON.


Abstract: Back dominant pain is either intensified by flexion or is not aggravated by bending forward. The most common pattern, probably discogenic, subdivides into two groups: one with pain on flexion but relief on extension, the other with pain in both directions. The second pattern has symptoms with extension only. Treatment begins with education about the true benign nature of the problem. Mechanical pain responds to posture adjustment and pattern-specific movement. Medication has a secondary role. Imaging is not required for the responding patient. The inability to detect a pattern or a lack of anticipated response combined with non-mechanical findings indicates the need for appropriate referral.
Key Words:back dominant pain, education, medication, imaging, specialist referral.

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Back Dominant pain can be divided into two presentations: pain that is predominantly reproduced with flexion or pain that is reduced or unaffected by flexion.
The recognition of mechanical low back pain is based on a precise history, a validating physical examination and a positive treatment result.
Referred pain to the leg may occur with back dominant pain but, unlike radicular pain, the neurological examination will be normal.
Facilitating the patient to engage in activity that does not aggravate pain is the key to pain management and recovery.
The goal is control, not cure. Anything that relieves the pain and helps to restore mobility is valuable.
Medication has a limited and secondary role. There is no place for the routine use of narcotics or psychotropic drugs.
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