A prospective study of patients with low back pain attending a Canadian emergency department: Why they came and what happened?

Gregory N. Kawchuk*, Jacob Aaskov, Matthew Mohler, Justin Lowes, Maureen Kruhlak, Stephanie Couperthwaite, Esther H. Yang, Cristina Villa-Roel, Brian H. Rowe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Low back pain is a common presentation to emergency departments, but the reasons why people choose to attend the emergency department have not been explored. We aimed to fill this gap with this study to understand why persons with low back pain choose to attend the emergency department. Between July 4, 2017 and October 1, 2018, consecutive patients with a complaint of low back pain presenting to the University of Alberta Hospital emergency department were screened. Those enrolled completed a 13-item questionnaire to assess reasons and expectations related to their presentation. Demographics, acuity and disposition were obtained electronically. Factors associated with admission were examined in a logistic regression model. After screening 812 patients, 209 participants met the study criteria. The most common Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale score was 3 (73.2%). Overall, 37 (17.7%) received at least one consultation, 89.0% of participants were discharged home, 9.6% were admitted and 1.4% were transferred. Participants had a median pain intensity of 8/10 and a median daily functioning of 3/10. When asked, 64.6% attended for pain control while 44.5% stated ease of access. Most participants expected to obtain pain medication (67%) and advice (56%). Few attended because of cost savings (3.8%). After adjustment, only advanced age and ambulance arrival were significantly associated with admission. In conclusion, most low back pain patients came to the emergency department for pain control yet few were admitted and the majority did not receive a consultation. Timely alternatives for management of low back pain in the emergency department appear needed, yet are lacking.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0268123
Issue number5
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 10. May 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright: © 2022 Kawchuk et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


  • Canada/epidemiology
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain/diagnosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Triage


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