Medical Screening for Red Flags in the Diagnosis and Management of Musculoskeletal Spine Pain

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When a patient presents with pain in the different regions of the spine, the clinician executes a region-appropriate basic examination that includes appropriate historical cues and specific physical examination tests that can be used to identify red flags. The clinical tests include a specific examination of the sensory and motor systems. Test outcomes are best interpreted in context with the entire examination profile, where the sensitivity and specificity of these tests can influence their utility in uncovering red flags. These red flags can be categorized based on the nature and severity or the specific elements of the patient's presentation. Many general red flags can be observed in any region of the spine, while specific red flags must be categorized and discussed for each spinal region. This categorization can guide the clinician in the direction of management, whether that management is aimed at redirecting the patient's care to another specialist, reconsidering the presentation and observing for clusters of findings that may suggest red flags, or managing the patient within the clinician's specialty in context with the severity of the patient's presentation.

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