The Intake

Insights for those starting, managing, and growing independent healthcare practices

ICD-10 Code M54.50

Code description: Low back pain, unspecified

What is the code M54.50?

M54.50 is a billable ICD-10 code used to specify a diagnosis of "low back pain." This code falls in chapter 13 under the category of diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue, specifically within category M54, which pertains to dorsalgia. It is commonly utilized in both general healthcare and specialist settings, such as orthopedics or physical therapy, to denote episodes of low back pain.

Detailed description of M54.50

The M54.50 code is designated for low back pain, a common musculoskeletal condition affecting the lumbar region of the spine. This condition can be acute, subacute, or chronic. The code helps in the classification of the pain site, which aids in determining appropriate treatment plans.

Symptoms commonly associated with M54.50

Individuals diagnosed with low back pain under the M54.50 code typically exhibit symptoms that include, but are not limited to:

  • Persistent aching or stiffness localized to the low back
  • Sharp, localized pain in the lower back, especially after lifting heavy objects or engaging in other strenuous activity
  • Chronic ache in the lower back after sitting or standing for prolonged periods

Other terms that are coded to M54.50 are "loin pain" and "lumbago."

The following codes are related to M54.50 and specify different types of back pain or related conditions:

  • M54.2 (Cervicalgia) indicates neck pain.
  • M54.9 (Dorsalgia, unspecified) covers general back pain without specifying a region.

Appropriate usage of M54.50 for billing

M54.50 should be used for billing purposes when patients present with symptoms of low back pain that do not yet correspond to a more precise diagnosis. It is suitable in scenarios where the clinical assessment is pending or when the patient's history and symptomatology do not support a specific causative condition. This code is prevalent in settings ranging from routine primary care visits to more focused physical therapy or chiropractic sessions where low back pain is the primary complaint.

Coding guidelines and best practices

Documentation is key when using the M54.50 code. Health professionals should thoroughly record the patient’s symptoms, the duration of the pain, any activities that aggravate or alleviate the pain, and any preliminary treatments given. Accurate and detailed documentation supports the necessity of the diagnostic tests and treatments provided, ensuring appropriate billing and patient care.

Common pitfalls in coding with M54.50

  • Misuse of M54.50 for non-specific back pain when a more precise diagnosis is evident based on clinical evaluation.
  • Failure to update the diagnosis code if further diagnostic evaluations clarify the underlying cause of the back pain.

Instructional notes and/or guidelines with M54.50 

Category M54 Dorsalgia has an excludes 1 instructional note that is applicable to code M54.50, advising that codes within this category should never be used with the following code:

  • Psychogenic dorsalgia (F45.41)

If the low back pain is exclusively related to psychological disorders, only the code in the excludes 1 note should be assigned and M54.50 would be omitted.

Subcategory M54.5 Low back pain has an excludes 1 instructional note that is applicable to code M54.50, advising that this code should never be used with the following codes: 

  • Low back strain (S39.012)
  • Lumbago due to intervertebral disc displacement (M51.2-)
  • Lumbago with sciatica (M54.4-)

If any of the conditions listed in the excludes 1 note have been diagnosed as the source of the low back pain, only the code in the excludes 1 note should be assigned and M54.50 would be omitted.

M54.50 may be used in conjunction with codes from category G89, Pain, not elsewhere classified — which provide more detail describing whether the pain is acute or chronic.

Key resources for M54.50 coding

  • CMS ICD-10 Homepage: Provides updates, guidelines, and tools for ICD-10 coding.
  • WHO ICD-10 Online Browser: Allows users to search the ICD-10 database to understand code specifications better.


The ICD-10 code M54.50 is crucial for accurately documenting and managing cases of low back pain in clinical settings. Proper application of this code not only facilitates precise billing and healthcare reporting but also guides effective treatment strategies to improve patient outcomes.

Download the workbook
Subscribe to The Intake:
A weekly check-up for your independent practice