Contemporary clinical assessment of back pain is based on the diagnostic triage paradigm. The most common diagnostic classification is nonspecific back pain, considered to be of nociceptive etiology. A small proportion are diagnosed with radicular pain, of neuropathic origin. In this study we review the body of literature on the prevalence of neuropathic features of back pain, revealing that the point prevalence is 17% in primary care, 34% in mixed clinical settings and 53% in tertiary care. There is evidence that neuropathic features of back pain are not restricted to typical clinical radicular pain phenotypes and may be under-recognized, particularly in primary care. The consequence of this is that in the clinic, diagnostic triage may erroneously classify patients with nonspecific back pain or radicular pain. A promising alternative is the development of mechanism-based pain phenotyping in patients with back pain. Timely identification of contributory pain mechanisms may enable greater opportunity to select appropriate therapeutic targets and improve patient outcomes.