Characteristics of patients with low back and leg pain seeking treatment in primary care: baseline results from the ATLAS cohort study
PainSci commentary on Konstantinou 2015: ?This page is one of thousands in the PainScience.com bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided wherever possible.
It’s always interesting to see counter-intuitive evidence showing that herniations are frequently asymptomatic is extremely interesting, but counter-examples like this trial importantly show that herniations are still often seen in people who have pain caused by nerve root irritation (radicular pain).
Konstantinou et al. studied over six hundred people who had reported both back and leg pain to their family doctors. They were thoroughly examined and scanned. Three quarters were clinically diagnosed with sciatica, and 60% of those patients had "definite or possible nerve root compression on MRI"… which was also seen in roughly a third of those without a sciatica diagnosis!
Approximately two thirds of the sciatica group and one third of the referred leg pain group had evidence of nerve root compression on MRI, with a disc prolapse being the most common finding in both cases. This is in line with well documented evidence that clinically diagnosed sciatic symptoms are not always supported by MRI findings and MRI evidence of nerve root compression may be present in the absence of any symptoms. There is no ‘gold standard’ for the diagnosis of sciatica and it is, effectively, a clinical diagnosis where the clinician considers the pain is coming from a lumbar nerve root.
It’s really hard to be sure if leg pain is coming from aggravated nerve roots, and MRI rarely settles it.
~ Paul Ingraham
original abstract †Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.
BACKGROUND: Patients with back pain radiating to the leg(s) report worse symptoms and poorer recovery than those with back pain alone. Robust evidence regarding their epidemiological profile is lacking from primary care, the setting where most of these patients will present and be managed. Our objective was to describe the characteristics of patients with back and leg pain, including sciatica, seeking treatment in primary care.
METHODS: Adults visiting their general practitioner with back and leg pain, of any duration and severity, were invited to participate. Participants completed questionnaires, underwent clinical assessments and received MRI scans. Characteristics of the sample are described, and differences between patients diagnosed with referred leg pain and those with sciatica are analysed.
RESULTS: Six hundred nine patients participated; 62.6 % were female, mean (SD) age 50.2 (13.9). 67.5 % reported pain below the knee, 60.7 % were in paid employment with 39.7 % reporting time off work. Mean disability (RMDQ) was 12.7 (5.7) and mean pain intensity was 5.6 (2.2) and 5.2 (2.4) for back and leg respectively. Mean sciatica bothersomeness index (SBI) was 14.9 (5.1). Three quarters (74.2 %) were clinically diagnosed as having sciatica. In the sciatica group, leg pain intensity, neuropathic pain, pain below the knee, leg pain worse than back pain, SBI and positive MRI findings were significantly higher as compared to patients with referred leg pain.
CONCLUSIONS: This primary care cohort reported high levels of disability and pain. This is the first epidemiological study of unselected primary care patients seeking healthcare for back and leg pain. Follow-up of this cohort will investigate the prognostic value of their baseline characteristics. This new information will contribute to our understanding of the characteristics and clinical features of this population, and will underpin future research aimed at defining prognostic subgroups to enable better targeting of health care provision.
- “Prognosis of sciatica and back-related leg pain in primary care: the ATLAS cohort,” Konstantinou et al, Spine J, 2018.
This page is part of the PainScience BIBLIOGRAPHY, which contains plain language summaries of thousands of scientific papers & others sources. It’s like a highly specialized blog. A few highlights:
- Inciting events associated with lumbar disc herniation. Suri 2010 Spine J.
- Prediction of an extruded fragment in lumbar disc patients from clinical presentations. Pople 1994 Spine (Phila Pa 1976).
- Characteristics of patients with low back and leg pain seeking treatment in primary care: baseline results from the ATLAS cohort study. Konstantinou 2015 BMC Musculoskelet Disord.
- Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of universal school-based mindfulness training compared with normal school provision in reducing risk of mental health problems and promoting well-being in adolescence: the MYRIAD cluster randomised controlled trial. Kuyken 2022 Evid Based Ment Health.
- No long-term effects after a three-week open-label placebo treatment for chronic low back pain: a three-year follow-up of a randomized controlled trial. Kleine-Borgmann 2022 Pain.