Clinical examination findings are used in primary care to give an initial diagnosis to patients with low back pain and related leg symptoms. The purpose of this study was to develop best evidence Clinical Diagnostic Rules (CDR] for the identification of the most common patho-anatomical disorders in the lumbar spine; i.e. intervertebral discs, sacroiliac joints, facet joints, bone, muscles, nerve roots, muscles, peripheral nerve tissue, and central nervous system sensitization.
Sixty-four studies satisfied our eligible criteria. We were able to construct promising CDRs for symptomatic intervertebral disc, sacroiliac joint, spondylolisthesis, disc herniation with nerve root involvement, and spinal stenosis. Single clinical test appear not to be as useful as clusters of tests that are more closely in line with clinical decision making.
This is the first comprehensive systematic review of diagnostic accuracy studies that evaluate clinical examination findings for their ability to identify the most common patho-anatomical disorders in the lumbar spine. In some diagnostic categories we have sufficient evidence to recommend a CDR. In others, we have only preliminary evidence that needs testing in future studies. Most findings were tested in secondary or tertiary care. Thus, the accuracy of the findings in a primary care setting has yet to be confirmed.