Low back pain: guidelines for the clinical classification of predominant neuropathic, nociceptive, or central sensitization pain

Pain Physician. 2015 May-Jun;18(3):E333-46.


Background: Low back pain (LBP) is a heterogeneous disorder including patients with dominant nociceptive (e.g., myofascial low back pain), neuropathic (e.g., lumbar radiculopathy), and central sensitization pain. In order to select an effective and preferably also efficient treatment in daily clinical practice, LBP patients should be classified clinically as either predominantly nociceptive, neuropathic, or central sensitization pain.

Objective: To explain how clinicians can differentiate between nociceptive, neuropathic, and central sensitization pain in patients with LBP.

Study design: Narrative review and expert opinion

Setting: Universities, university hospitals and private practices

Methods: Recently, a clinical method for the classification of central sensitization pain versus neuropathic and nociceptive pain was developed. It is based on a body of evidence of original research papers and expert opinion of 18 pain experts from 7 different countries. Here we apply this classification algorithm to the LBP population.

Results: The first step implies examining the presence of neuropathic low back pain. Next, the differential diagnosis between predominant nociceptive and central sensitization pain is done using a clinical algorithm.

Limitations: The classification criteria are substantiated by several original research findings including a Delphi survey, a study of a large group of LBP patients, and validation studies of the Central Sensitization Inventory. Nevertheless, these criteria require validation in clinical settings.

Conclusion: The pain classification system for LBP should be an addition to available classification systems and diagnostic procedures for LBP, as it is focussed on pain mechanisms solely.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / classification*
  • Low Back Pain / diagnosis
  • Low Back Pain / therapy
  • Neuralgia / classification*
  • Neuralgia / diagnosis
  • Neuralgia / therapy
  • Nociceptive Pain / classification*
  • Nociceptive Pain / diagnosis
  • Nociceptive Pain / therapy
  • Pain Measurement / classification*
  • Pain Measurement / standards
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic* / standards
  • Surveys and Questionnaires / standards