Spinal epidural abscess (SEA) is an uncommon but serious condition with significant morbidity and mortality. The prognosis of SEA is highly dependent on the timeliness of its diagnosis before neurological deficits develop. Unfortunately, often due to its nonspecific presentation, such as back pain, the diagnosis of SEA may be delayed in up to 75% of cases. Although many risk factors for SEA can be found in the published literature, their utility is limited by their frequent lack of objective evidence, numerousness, and absence in a significant proportion of cases. In this review, we call for a more discriminate evidence-based use of the term "risk factor" when discussing SEA and explore several approaches to its earlier diagnosis, including a simple algorithm based on its pathophysiology and serum C-reactive protein or erythrocyte sedimentation rate.