Streamlining the evaluation of low back pain in children

Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2008 Aug;466(8):1971-7. doi: 10.1007/s11999-008-0296-2. Epub 2008 Jun 16.


The workup of low back pain in children often results in overimaging so as not to miss organic back pain. The primary goal of this study was to identify which combination of imaging modalities provides the most sensitive and specific screening protocol for children with low back pain. Medical records from 100 consecutive patients between 2 and 18 years of age presenting with low back pain, without night pain or constitutional symptoms, were evaluated. A hyperextension test combined with a radiograph showed a negative predictive value of 0.81 and sensitivity of 0.90. The addition of a bone scan was highly effective in achieving good negative predictive value and sensitivity. Bone scans had perfect negative predictive value and sensitivity when symptom duration was less than 6 weeks. We identified a set of factors that is highly predictive for distinguishing organic back pain from mechanical back pain. Painless hyperextension combined with negative anteroposterior, lateral, and oblique lumbar radiographs and magnetic resonance images predicts mechanical back pain. For patients with nonneurologic back pain of less than 6 weeks duration, bone scan is the most useful screening test because it is accurate, accessible, inexpensive, and unlikely to require sedation.

Level of evidence: Level III, diagnostic study.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Bone and Bones / diagnostic imaging
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diagnostic Imaging*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / diagnosis*
  • Low Back Pain / epidemiology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon