Sensory descriptors which identify neuropathic pain mechanisms in low back pain: a systematic review

Michelle Heraughty, Colette Ridehalgh

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Objective: Descriptors provided by patients with neuropathic low back pain (NLBP) with or without spinally referred leg pain are frequently used by clinicians to help to identify the predominant pain mechanisms. Indeed, many neuropathic screening tools are primarily based on subjective descriptors to determine the presence of neuropathic pain. There is a need to systematically review and analyse the existing evidence to determine the validity of such descriptors in this cohort.

    Methods: Ten databases were systematically searched. The review adhered to PRISMA and CRD guidelines and included a risk of bias assessment using QUADAS-2. Studies were included if they contained symptom descriptors from a group of NLBP patients +/- leg pain. Studies had to include a reference test to identity neuropathic pain from other pain mechanisms.

    Results: Eight studies of 3099 NLBP patients were included. Allodynia and numbness were found to discriminate between NLBP and nociceptive LBP in four studies. Autonomic dysfunction, (changes in the colour or appearance of the skin), was also found to discriminate between the groups in two studies. Dysesthesia identified NLBP in 5/7 respectively. Results from studies were equivocal regarding pain described as hot/burning cold and paroxysmal pain in people with NLBP.

    Conclusion: Subjectively reported allodynia and numbness would suggest a neuropathic pain mechanism in LBP. Dysesthesia would raise the suspicion of NLBP. More research is needed to determine if descriptors suggesting autonomic dysfunction can identify NLBP. There is poor consensus on whether other descriptors can identify NLBP.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1695-1706
    Number of pages12
    JournalCurrent Medical Research and Opinion
    Issue number10
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2020

    Bibliographical note

    This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in
    Current Medical Research and Opinion on 1/7/2020, available online:


    • Sensory descriptors
    • descriptors
    • neuropathic pain
    • low back pain


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