Referral to emergency

If any of the following are present or suspected, please refer the patient to the emergency department (via ambulance if necessary) or seek emergent medical advice if in a remote region.

  • acute neurological signs (motor or sensory loss) associated with back pain
  • lower limb joint pain and associated inability to weight bear
  • joint pain in a child from a population at high risk of acute rheumatic fever Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

Please contact the on-call registrar to discuss your concerns prior to referral.

For clinical advice, please telephone the relevant metropolitan Local Health Network switchboard and ask to speak to the relevant specialty service.

Women's and Children's Health Network


  • hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome without joint pain
  • benign hypermobility syndrome without joint pain
  • growing pain variants including:
    • Osgood Schlatter’s
    • Sindig larsen
  • children under 18 years with chronic pain (pain persisting for >3 months) without evidence of arthritis should be referred to the chronic pain service

Triage categories

Category 1 (appointment clinically indicated within 30 days)

  • inflammatory back pain +/- peripheral joint inflammatory disease
  • evidence of synovitis, arthritis or joint erosion on imaging
  • joint pain with elevated inflammatory markers that are otherwise unexplained
  • joint pain accompanied by symptoms or history of other inflammatory disease:
    • inflammatory bowel disease, uveitis, new rashes
  • joint deformity / decreased range of movement

Category 2 (appointment clinically indicated within 90 days)

  • undiagnosed cause of joint or musculoskeletal pain that is not listed in category 1
  • musculoskeletal pain with significant functional impairment on the child and family

Category 3 (appointment clinically indicated within 365 days)

  • nil

For information on referral forms and how to import them, please view general referral information.

Essential referral information

Completion required before first appointment to ensure patients are ready for care. Please indicate in the referral if the patient is unable to access mandatory tests or investigations as they incur a cost or are unavailable locally.

  • identifies as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander
  • identify within your referral if you feel your patient is from a vulnerable population, under guardianship/out-of-home care arrangements and/or requires a third party to receive correspondence on their behalf
  • interpreter required
  • history of presenting complaint:
    • duration and frequency of symptoms
    • pattern of pain - for example overnight waking with pain, morning pain, pain with exercise, early morning stiffness
    • aggravating and relieving factors
    • treatments used/sought so far including response to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), physiotherapy or any other treatments
    • symptoms - bony tenderness or swelling,
  • examination findings
    • reduced range of motion
    • deformity
    • associated muscle wasting

Additional information to assist triage categorisation

  • relevant diagnostic/imaging reports including location of company and accession number if available
  • any blood test results if available

Clinical management advice

For the below suspected conditions, please refer to orthopaedics:

  • septic arthritis - via emergency department for acute orthopaedics assessment
  • hip dysplasia

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be commenced prior to rheumatology assessment unless contraindicated.
  • NSAIDs produce a good response and will assist to manage pain
  • consider trial of piroxicam 0.4mg/kg (maximum 20mg) once daily for 4 weeks and assess response (may require proton pump inhibitor cover)


  • for any back pain referrals, a referral to community physiotherapy should be initiated where possible prior to rheumatology referral
  • physiotherapy is useful to facilitate stretching and range of motion exercises and has proven benefit in both inflammatory and non-inflammatory back pain
  • Whilst the rheumatology service accepts referrals for children with joint pain, to investigate any underlying inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, the rheumatology service does not accept referrals for the investigation, diagnosis, or management of joint hypermobility syndromes. Children with suspected Marfan's or classical Ehlers-Danlos should be referred to the genetics or cardiology services.
  • children with other hypermobility related issues may benefit from review and management from a physiotherapist

Clinical resources

Consumer resources