Diagnosing Back Pain

In many cases, the cause of a person's back pain is diagnosed through a medical history, a physical exam, and medical tests, which may include x-rays. Making a proper diagnosis is difficult, and many times the precise cause of the pain is never known. Fortunately, this type of pain often gets better on its own, even without a doctor formally making a diagnosis and identifying the cause.

An Introduction to Diagnosing Back Pain

Diagnosing back pain and its cause requires a medical history, a physical exam, and medical tests, which may include x-rays.

Your Medical History

During the medical history, your doctor will likely ask questions about the nature of your pain and about any health problems you or your family members have or have had. Questions might include:
  • Have you fallen or injured your back recently?
  • Does your back feel better or worse when you lie down?
  • Are there any activities or positions that ease or aggravate the pain (make it worse)?
  • Is your pain worse or better at a certain time of day?
  • Do you or your family members have arthritis or other diseases that might affect the spine?
  • Do you have pain, numbness, and/or tingling down one or both legs?

The Physical Exam

During the physical exam, your doctor will:
  • Watch you stand and walk
  • Check your reflexes to look for slowed or heightened reflexes, either of which might suggest nerve problems
  • Check for fibromyalgia by examining your back for tender points, which are points on the body that are painful when pressure is applied to them
  • Check for muscle strength and sensation
  • Check for signs of nerve root irritation.
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Back Pain Information

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