UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Orthopedics

Title: ESR and CRP in Spinal Infection

Keywords: Epidural abscess, back pain, vertebral osteomyelitis (PubMed Search)

Posted: 5/8/2021 by Brian Corwell, MD
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Both erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and C-reactive protein (CRP) are highly sensitive (84-100%) for spinal infections and are observed in >80% with vertebral osteomyelitis and epidural abscesses.



Most sensitive and specific serum marker, usually elevated in both spinal epidural abscess (SEA) and vertebral osteomyelitis.  

ESR was elevated in 94-100% of patients with SEA vs. only 33% of non-SEA patients

Mean ESR in patients with SEA was significantly elevated (51-77mm/hour)


Not highly specific

Less useful for acute diagnosis since CRP levels rise faster and return to baseline faster than ESR (elevated CRP seen in 87% of patients with SEA as well as in 50% of patients with spine pain not due to a SEA)

Better used as a marker of response to treatment.  








1) Colip CG, Lotfi M, Buch K, Holalkere N, Setty BN. Emergent spinal MRI in IVDU patients presenting with back pain: do we need an MRI in every case? Emerg Radiol 2018;25:247-56.

2) Davis DP, Salazar A, Chan TC, Vilke GM. Prospective evaluation of a clinical decision guideline to diagnose spinal epidural abscess in patients who present to the emergency department with spine pain. J Neurosurg Spine 2011;14:765-70.