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The assessment of backache

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It may come as no surprise that back pain, and most of the time we mean low back pain (in the lumbar region), is one of the most common musculoskeletal conditions seen in primary care.1 We all know that it is common, and probably many of us have suffered from it. It is thought that about four-fifths of the American population have suffered back pain at some point in their past to the extent it limited their everyday activities.1 In the UK, about seven per cent of the adult population see their primary care provider about back pain.2

It is important to get the definitions correct, and a new episode of low back pain that has been present for less than six weeks is termed acute low back pain. Chronic low back pain is defined as pain lasting more than three months, and the outlook worsens if the problems are present for more than 12 months.3 The prognosis for acute low back pain is better, as most episodes improve by themselves.4

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