Assessment of severity in low back injuries may be based on diagnosis, pain, disability, physical impairment, and capacity for work. It is important to distinguish between impairment and disability. Physical impairment is objective structural limitation; disability is the resulting loss of function. Disability can be assessed by the patient's report of restriction in activities of daily living: bending and lifting, sitting, standing, walking, traveling, socializing, sleep, sex, and putting on or taking off footwear. Detailed statistical analysis of 480 patients identified the most important elements of lumbar impairment as the anatomic and time patterns of pain, lumbar flexion, straight leg raising, neurologic signs, previous surgery, and spinal fractures. Methods of examination need to be improved. An anatomic chart is provided to calculate impairment in the individual patient. The patient's report of pain, disability, and capacity for work should then be compared with the physician's objective assessment of the injury, diagnosis, and lumbar impairment.
From the Western Infirmary, Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom.