There is a common belief that patients presenting to emergency departments have more severe pain levels and functional limitations than those in general practice. The aim of this systematic review was to compare pain and disability levels of patients with acute low back pain presenting to general practice versus those presenting to emergency departments.
Electronic searches were conducted in MEDLINE, EMBASE and CINAHL from inception to February 2019. Observational studies including patients with acute non-specific low back pain presenting to emergency departments and/or general practice were eligible. Pain and/or disability scores expressed on a 0-100 scale were the primary outcomes. Risk of bias was evaluated using a validated tool for observational studies and the overall quality of evidence was assessed using GRADE. Meta-analysis using random effects and meta-regression were used to test for differences between the two settings.
We included 12 records reporting results for 10 unique studies with a total of 6,999 participants from general practice (n = 6) and emergency departments (n = 4). There was low quality evidence (downgraded for indirectness and inconsistency) that patients presenting to emergency departments had higher pain scores than those in general practice with a mean difference of 17.3 points (95%CI: 8.8 to 25.9 on a 0-100 scale). Similarly, there was low quality evidence (downgraded for indirectness and inconsistency) that patients presenting to emergency departments had higher disability scores than those in general practice (mean difference: 21.7, 95%CI: 4.6 to 38.7 on a 0-100 scale).
Patients with acute non-specific low back pain presenting to emergency departments may report higher levels of pain and disability than those seen in general practice.
CRD42017076806.

© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Academy of Pain Medicine.