Telehealth examination of the lumbar spine

Technol Health Care. 2023;31(1):81-93. doi: 10.3233/THC-220041.


Background: Telehealth evaluations of musculoskeletal conditions have increased due to the stay-at-home policies enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Back pain is one of the most common complaints in primary care. While telehealth may never supplant in-person evaluation of back pain, it is imperative in a changing world to learn to perform this evaluation via telephone or video. Virtual visits rely on history-taking and patient self-reported descriptions of pain elicited from self-palpation or specific movements while on the telephone with the clinician. Video examinations provide a unique way of evaluating the lower back compared to telephone because of the ability to visualize the actions of the patient.

Objective: To create an evaluation pathway for examination of the lumbar spine via telehealth.

Methods: Our group has created a step-by-step evaluation pathway to help physicians direct their patients through typical lumbar examination elements, including inspection, palpation, range of motion, and strength, special, and functional testing.

Results: We have developed a table of questions and instructions and a glossary of images of each maneuver to facilitate lumbar spine examination via telemedicine.

Conclusions: This paper provides a guide for extracting clinically relevant information while performing telemedicine examinations of the lumbar spine.

Keywords: Lumbar; back pain; exam guide; telehealth; virtual encounter.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Lumbar Vertebrae
  • Pandemics
  • Physical Examination / methods
  • Telemedicine* / methods