A proposal for the organization of the referral of patients with chronicnon-specific low back pain

Coen Itz*, Frank Huygen, Maarten van Kleef

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Low back pain in general and specifically chronic low back pain forms a major burden for the patient and society. Recently studies demonstrated that up to 65% of patients evolve to chronic pain as opposed to the previously accepted 8%. As low back pain patients present first with their general practitioner, the latter should establish a treatment plan, including the appropriate referrals. There are, however, no clear guidelines as to how to refer low back pain patients. The process of trial and error of different specialties and treatment possibilities often results in a long and costly trajectory. A better understanding of the subtypes of chronic low back pain, the risks for chronification and fast adequate referral may result in higher patient satisfaction and cost reduction. Proposed solutions: We propose a classification system based on the clinical and anatomical characteristics of axial low back pain, separated from radicular pain. It is important to recognize the risks for chronification, such as degenerative and/or herniated disk, a smaller cross-sectional area of the multifidus, erector spinae, and psoas muscles and psychological and social factors, to be able to provide appropriate management. Also stratification of the patients according to the degree of disability may help in defining the correct treatment approach. A one-and-a-half line approach, where a spine physician assistant works under the supervision of the general practitioner to establish the sub-diagnosis, the risk factors for chronicity and to explain the proposed management plan to the patient, may be helpful for an early appropriate treatment selection for the patient with chronic low back pain.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1903-1909
JournalCurrent Medical Research and Opinion
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016


  • Chronification
  • First line care
  • Non-specific low back pain
  • One-and-a-half line care
  • Referral

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