International Orthopaedics

, Volume 42, Issue 12, pp 2843–2849 | Cite as

Specific spinal pathologies in adult patients with an acute or subacute atraumatic low back pain in the emergency department

  • Aleksi ReitoEmail author
  • Kati Kyrölä
  • Liisa Pekkanen
  • Juha Paloneva
Original Paper



The primary aim in the evaluation of patients presenting with acute or subacute low back pain (LBP) is to exclude a possible specific spinal pathology. Literature on the population-based incidences of these pathologies is scarce. The aim of our study was to investigate the population-based incidence of specific spinal pathologies as a cause of atraumatic acute or subacute LBP.


From our institutional database, we identified all patients with a relevant LBP-related ICD-10 code during a visit to our emergency department (ED) in a level II/III teaching hospital between January 2012 and December 2014. Patients with a possible specific spinal pathology (cauda equina syndrome, spondylodiscitis, vertebral fracture, and cancer) were assessed in detail.


A total of 900 visits were due to atraumatic low back pain. Of these 284 (31.6%) were due to nonspecific LBP, and 583 (64.8%) due to radicular pain suggesting nerve root compression. In 33 (3.7%) cases, the LBP was caused by a specific spinal pathology. The annual incidences per 100,000 were 0.60 for CES, 2.1 for spondylodiscitis, 0.76 for cancer and 1.2 for compression fracture.


The incidences of specific spinal pathologies were low. Given that LBP is a very common symptom, it is not surprising that the accuracy of red flag symptoms is poor. Each patient should be considered individually, and we advocate a low threshold for referral and advanced imaging in cases where a specific spinal pathology is suspected.


Low back pain Red flag Incidence Specific pathology Diagnostic triage 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© SICOT aisbl 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Orthopedic Surgery and TraumatologyCentral Finland HospitalJyväskyläFinland

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