Acute low back pain

Estimated Duration: 
1 hour

Acute low back pain is common and can occur without any definite event or injury. Back pain is second only to URTI in terms of days lost from work due to illness or injury. There are a large number of causes of low back pain and a definitive structural diagnosis is possible in less than 10% of patients.  

The commonest cause of acute low back pain is vertebral dysfunction or ‘mechanical pain’. This is not an anatomical diagnosis. Inflammatory disorders such as spondyloarthropathies and reactive arthritis must be considered in the setting of a younger person presenting with inflammatory symptoms (pain at rest, relieved with activity, early morning pain and stiffness). Leg pain and neurological symptoms suggest the involvement of a nerve root or spinal cord.

By the end of this course you should be able to:

  • have an awareness of the common conditions which affect the spine in active patients;
  • understand the indications for obtaining X-rays of the lumbar spine;
  • be able to evaluate and initiate a management plan for patients presenting with spondylolysis and radicular pain;
  • be able to identify yellow and red flag symptoms and signs;
  • understand the indications for specialist review.


Once you have completed this short course and quiz, please click 'submit' where you will be taken to the results page. From here you can print your certificate for 1 Continuing Professional Development (CPD) hour.


This content was created by Dr Helen Joyce Fulcher MBChB, DipPaed, PGCertHSc(Sports Med), in August 2016.

The material is presented by the Goodfellow Unit (GFU), an accredited continuing medical education/ continuing professional development (CME/CPD) provider for the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners and functions under a tripartite agreement between the Goodfellow Foundation, the College and the University of Auckland. The Unit is located within the Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, and within the School of Population Health.


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