Getting an Accurate Diagnosis for Back Pain
Updated: Sep 1, 2019
According to the American Chiropractic Association, an estimated 31 million adults in America experience back pain at any given moment, and as many as 80% of adults will have a back pain issue at some point in their lives. Lower back pain is often the most common complaint, but there are countless variations of discomfort in the back that require an accurate and timely diagnosis. The reality is that the underlying reason for back pain is not always identified correctly the first time around, and this causes more stress and frustration which can exacerbate the issue. Here are a few strategies to help get the back pain diagnosis you need so a plan for treatment and recovery can be set in motion.
The Diagnostic Process
Although the causes for back pain reach far and wide, the diagnostic process is similar for many adults who want and need answers. Most believe that a myriad of tests is necessary to get to the underlying issue quickly, but the diagnostic process begins with an open and honest discussion with your healthcare provider. This involves a review of your medical history, with a keen focus on the severity, frequency, and location of your back pain.
Your doctor may ask:
How long has the back pain been noticeable?
Is the pain in your back only, or does it radiate to the legs or arms?
Does anything make the back pain subside?
What makes that back pain worse?
Have you received treatment for back pain in the past?
In addition to these pointed questions, a diagnostic exam may also involve questions about other, seemingly non-related issues. You may be asked about tingling or numbness, urinary incontinence, or weakness and fatigue. Be prepared to answers these questions along with the specifics of your back pain during your initial visit.
Once a thorough medical history is gathered, a physical examination is completed. Your doctor may test nerve function and muscle strength in the arms, legs, and back, or ask about pain when putting pressure on certain areas of the body. These brief physical tests can provide insight medical history and symptom run-downs cannot. In some cases, however, further testing is necessary in order to get a proper diagnosis.
Tests You May Receive
When a physical examination and medical history combined are not enough to offer up a diagnosis, your doctor may suggest more in-depth diagnostic tests. These may include an X-ray, which provides a detailed view of the bone structure in the spine, or a CT scan, which offers a closer look than an X-ray. In some cases, an MRI scan is recommended which can help with identifying specific conditions that impact the back, such as degenerative disc disease, herniated discs, or spinal stenosis. Your doctor may also request other imaging or electrical studies to get a better idea of the cause of the back pain, depending on its location and severity.
Receiving a Diagnosis
Even with extensive testing and symptom history, there may not be an immediate, clear reason for back pain. Typically, a combination of these approaches works best to determine the underlying cause, but some medical professionals may conduct a trial and error approach to treating discomfort over time. When treatments aren’t working or tests are conclusive, chiropractic care may be a viable solution.
Chiropractors are experts in spinal health, and instead of using invasive procedures and surgeries to treat back pain, they work with their hands to manipulate and align the spine and joints for optimal functionality and mobility. The best thing you can do to ensure you get the right diagnosis and, ultimately, the right treatment, is to follow up with your doctor or chiropractor when back pain persists.