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Low back pain is a common reason for hospital referral but little is known of the resulting workload in different specialties. All new outpatient attendances for conditions with low back pain were recorded over one month in a teaching hospital and a district general hospital. The patients were seen in at least ten specialties and two-fifths of them had been seen previously with the same symptom in another department. In the two hospitals, low back pain accounted for 15% and 12% of all new outpatient attendances. A more coherent referral policy is needed.