Cathriona Murphy, Helen French, Geraldine McCarthy, Caitriona Cunningham

April 2022, pp 1 - 20 Review Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-022-07180-4

First Online: 05 April 2022


Clinical pathways for low back pain (LBP) have potential to improve clinical outcomes and health service efficiency. This systematic review aimed to synthesise the evidence for clinical pathways for LBP and/or radicular leg pain from primary to specialised care and to describe key pathway components.


Electronic database searches (CINAHL, MEDLINE, Cochrane Library, EMBASE) from 2006 onwards were conducted with further manual and citation searching. Two independent reviewers conducted eligibility assessment, data extraction and quality appraisal. A narrative synthesis of findings is presented.


From 18,443 identified studies, 28 papers met inclusion criteria. Pathways were developed primarily to address over-burdened secondary care services in high-income countries and almost universally used interface services with a triage remit at the primary-secondary care boundary. Accordingly, evaluation of healthcare resource use and patient flow predominated, with interface services associated with enhanced service efficiency through decreased wait times and appropriate use of consultant appointments. Low quality study designs, heterogeneous outcomes and insufficient comparative data precluded definitive conclusions regarding clinical- and cost-effectiveness. Pathways demonstrated basic levels of care integration across the primary-secondary care boundary.


The limited volume of research evaluating clinical pathways for LBP/radicular leg pain and spanning primary and specialised care predominantly used interface services to ensure appropriate specialised care referrals with associated increased efficiency of care delivery. Pathways demonstrated basic levels of care integration across healthcare boundaries. Well-designed randomised controlled trials to explore the potential of clinical pathways to improve clinical outcomes, deliver cost-effective, guideline-concordant care and enhance care integration are required.

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