1 Spinal Radiology Report Interpretations When is Surgical Referral Appropriate? Abhay Sanan MD, FAANS Center for Neurosciences
2 Disclosure No financial disclosure
3 Disclosure No financial disclosure Caveat Emptor Doctors With a Special Interest in Back Pain Have Poorer Knowledge About How to Treat Back Pain Spine (Phila Pa 1976) May 15;34(11): ; discussion doi: /BRS.0b013e318195d688.
4 Back Pain
5 ACUTE (<4 weeks) Back Pain is ONLY topic we tackle today We won t be covering: Lumbar stenosis Lumbar spondylolisthesis
6 Why talk about it??
7 Common 80% of us will have an episode of temporarily disabling back pain at some point in time - Bonica 1980
8 Relevant 2nd most common reason for primary care office visit 5th most common reason for all medical office visits Pai S, Sundaram LJ. Low back pain: an economic assessment in the united states. Orthop Clin N Am. 2004;35:1-5.
9 Costs us a lot of Money Medical costs (direct & indirect) 30 Billion paid to doctors in 2005 for back pain management visits.
10 Lost productivity Lost time from work #1 reason for filing a workman s compensation claim
11 Work absence reasons Guo HR, Tanaka S, Halperin WE, Cameron LL. Back pain prevalence in US industry and estimates of lost workdays. AM J Public Health. 1999;89:
12 Other costs to society Disability Claims Litigation costs from workman s compensation or disability claims
13 >100 Billion dollar problem
16 The patient with acute back pain evokes two types of reactions
17 Easy visit? Usually benign Usually self-limiting Benign neglect works
18 Frustrating visit? Some patients can be demanding The process often feels unsatisfying Worry about missing something
19 Be able to recognize the difference between routine back pain and sinister back pain. When to send the patient to a neurosurgeon
20 Routine or Sinister back pain? Here is how I approach the patient
21 Routine or Sinister back pain? Here is how I approach the patient Step 1. Formulate a cognitive plan
22 Routine or Sinister back pain? Here is how I approach the patient Step 1. Formulate a cognitive plan Is there a systemic cause of the back pain? Is there neurological compromise?
23 Step 2. History/Exam What don t we want to miss?
24 Step 2. History/Exam What don t we want to miss? 1. Cancer 2. Infection 3. Cauda equina syndrome
25 The odds are in your favor Mechanical 89% Herniated disc 4% Osteoporotic Fracture 4% Cauda equina syndrome 0.2% Neoplasm 0.7% Infection 0.01% Adapted from Deyo, Weinstein, Low Back Pain, NEJM 2001
26 Cauda Equina Syndrome Bilateral leg pain 0.2 % Bilateral leg weakness Saddle anesthesia Bowel/bladder incontinence
27 Cauda Equina Syndrome Bilateral leg pain 0.2 % Bilateral leg weakness Saddle anesthesia Bowel/bladder incontinence Patients are distressed
28 Cauda Equina Syndrome Bilateral leg pain 0.2 % Bilateral leg weakness Saddle anesthesia Bowel/bladder incontinence Patients are distressed Send to ER or call your neurosurgeon. This is not the time to fill out a referral form.
29 Spinal Infection Fever Unrelenting pain Pain at rest IVDA Immunosupression 0.01 % Order an MRI Referral to ER or Neurosurgeon
30 Spinal Metastatic Age >50 Tumor History of Cancer Weight loss Night Pain 0.7% MRI is indicated Referral to neurosurgeon
31 My approach: Basic Questions Young age (<55)? Ambulatory? Bowel/Bladder intact? Sudden onset after minor trauma? Fever/Chills? Cancer history? Long term steroid use? Is all of the pain in the back? Leg pain?
32 Red Flags Cancer history IVDA history Weight Loss Fevers Significant leg weakness
33 Red Flags Cancer history IVDA history GET AN MRI FOR A PATIENT Weight Loss THAT HAS THESE Fevers FINDINGS Significant leg weakness
34 No Red Flags?
35 No Red Flags? Relax.
36 No Red Flags? Relax. There are two other entities we want to look for: Compression fracture Herniated disc
37 Spotting the compression fracture Older patient Osteoporosis 4% Steroid use Pain with percussion A plain X-Ray will usually give the answer.
38 Vertebroplasty Recent controversy: NEJM published two RCTs in Buchbinder R, Osborne RH, Ebeling PR, Wark JD, Mitchell P, Wriedt C, et al. A randomized trial of vertebroplasty for painful osteoporotic vertebral fractures. N Engl J Med (6): Kallmes DF, Comstock BA, Heagerty PJ, Turner JA, Wilson DJ, Diamond TH, et al. A randomized trial of vertebroplasty for osteoporotic spinal fractures. N Engl J Med (6): These were negative studies Vertebroplasty criteria are now much more strict
39 Benign Compression fracture Management Analgesics & Therapy Referral to specialist if pain is severe/unrelenting. Kyphoplasty/vertebroplasty still indicated in certain circumstances so referral to a specialist is appropriate if pain does not improve in 2 weeks.
40 Lumbar disc herniation Approximately 4% of acute back pain patients will have a lumbar disc herniation as the cause Predominance of leg pain is the clue Neurosurgeons want to see these patients. Why? Surgical results are often good.
41 Natural History of Sciatica 36% improve in 2 weeks 73% improve in 3 months <20% require surgery Predicting the outcome of sciatica at short term followup Br J of General Practice, 2002
42 From: Surgical vs Nonoperative Treatment for Lumbar Disk Herniation: The Spine Patient Outcomes Research Trial (SPORT): A Randomized Trial JAMA. 2006;296(20): doi: /jama
43 The Exam Step onto a stepstool (L3L4) Heel walking (L5) Toe walking (S1) Knee Reflex (L4) Ankle reflex (S1) Patrick s maneuver (Hips) Percussion of the spine (Cancer, fracture, Infection) Should take <5 minutes
44 >90% of Lumbar disc herniations affect L4, L5 or S1
45 What about imaging?
46 Routine imaging is NOT required Imaging Strategies for Low Back Pain: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Lancet RCTs of 1804 patients with acute or subacute non-specific low back pain NO difference in outcomes with routine imaging vs. usual care for pain, function, quality of life, anxiety, or patient-rated improvement *Routine imaging = More cost w/o clinical benefit*
47 Routine Imaging may actually harm Relationship of Early MRI for Work-Related Acute LBP with Disability and Medical Utilizations Outcomes. JOEM * 8-fold increase in surgery * * 5-fold increase in total cost *
48 MRI abnormalities abound in the normal population
49 Several studies have shown that there is no correlation between MRI findings and patients low back symptoms. 1. Wittenberg et al., Smith et al., Savage et al., 1997
50 Why is routine imaging not beneficial? Abnormalities VERY common Acute LBP has a favorable history Imaging rarely affects treatment plans Potential benefits offset by harms May lead to unnecessary procedures Diagnostic Imaging for LBP: Advice for High Value Health Care from the ACP. Ann Int Med 2011.
51 Imaging (Bottom Line) If no red flag in history & No exam abnormality then NO IMAGING REQUIRED
52 After the History/Exam, try to place the patient into one of three categories Non specific low back pain (>90%) Low back pain with radiculopathy (4%) Back pain that sounds serious (1%)
53 Evidence based Treatment of 1. Nonspecific back pain 2. Radiculopathy (without deficit) Tylenol NSAIDS Muscle Relaxants Heat Avoid Bed Rest
54 Poor evidence Poor Evidence / Unable to Estimate / I - Acupuncture - Back Schools - Ultrasound - Lumbar Supports - Massage - Modified Work - TENS - Superficial Cold
58 Yellow flags Negative mood Poor job satisfaction Litigation Secondary gain Psychosocial risk factors are stronger predictors of outcome than exam findings and severity of pain!!
59 Waddell s Non-organic Signs Inappropriate tenderness to slight touch Pain with axial loading (e.g. pushing on top of head) Non dermatomal disturbances in strength/sensation Over-reaction during the exam
60 Bowel and Bladder Hard to get bowel/bladder involvement in ambulatory patient with normal motor function around the ankle Hard to get isolated bladder failure from disc disease Urinary retention is seen from pain/narcotics ISOLATED bladder dysfunction (no leg weakness, no saddle anesthesia) is NOT Cauda equina syndrome
61 Followup is always a good idea You will want to verify that the pain went away. You will want to verify that red flags did not appear.
62 When to refer Immediately Lumbar tumor Lumbar infection Cauda equina syndrome
63 When to refer Immediately Lumbar tumor Lumbar infection Very soon Radiculopathy with neurological deficit Cauda equina syndrome
64 When to refer Immediately Lumbar tumor Lumbar infection Very soon Radiculopathy with neurological deficit Cauda equina syndrome If still in pain Radiculopathy Compression fracture
65 When to refer Immediately Lumbar tumor Lumbar infection Very soon Radiculopathy with neurological deficit Cauda equina syndrome If still in pain Radiculopathy It just does not feel right We ll see them! Compression fracture
66 Some things to remember Try not to miss cancer, infection, or cauda equina syndrome. Harder to get into trouble if there is a follow-up visit If the exam is normal and there are no red flags, take a deep breath. Even if something turns up later, you did nothing wrong.
69 Such a common disorder, yet... One would have thought by now that the problem of diagnosis and treatment would have been solved, but the issue remains mysterious and clouded with uncertainty. Rosomoff HL, Rosomoff RS. Low back pain: Evaluation and management in the primary care setting. Med Clin North Am 1999;83:
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