You know when your back hurts, but you may not be able to accurately tell your doctor exactly where the pain originates. Back pain is often referred from other areas, especially when it comes to pain that starts in your spine. That’s why you need to rely on the experts at the Southeastern Spine Institute to properly diagnose your back pain. It’s the only way to receive the best treatment for your specific pain.
There are two types of pain, acute and chronic. Their symptoms and treatment differ greatly, so diagnosing your back pain accurately is the first step toward treatment. The differences include:
- Acute pain usually arises from an injury, inflammation, disease or a combination. It typically begins suddenly and often feels sharp. The cause of acute pain may include environmental stressors or overuse during a prolonged period. Acute pain is the body’s protective response to tissue damage. This type of pain is generally temporary and treatable, but it can become chronic if left untreated.
- Chronic pain, which is classified as a medical disease, persists over time and can be difficult to manage. Environmental and psychological factors may make it worse. People who suffer from chronic pain risk developing problems with their physical functioning, cognition and emotional reactions.
What Steps Do Doctors Take for Diagnosing Back Pain?
When diagnosing back pain, your spinal medicine specialist at the Southeastern Spine Institute evaluates your pain intensity while diagnosing your condition. The diagnostic steps include:
- Your doctor starts by asking questions about your medical history and your family’s medical history. Questions follow concerning when your pain first started, how intense it is now and what seems to trigger severest pain.
- Next comes a physical examination. Your spine specialist tests your musculoskeletal and neurological conditions by assessing movement, reflexes, sensations, balance and coordination. Depending on your symptoms, you may take a joint motion test, a neurological examination, a strength test and a palpation of your back and legs. A complete physical exam reveals information that other tests can’t, such as:
- The degree of your functional impairment
- The disorder producing the pain
- Your posture and limited motion that register as pain
- Your physician may order x-rays. Although they have limited efficacy in diagnosing back pain, they help your doctor rule out such conditions as metastatic tumors or spinal abnormalities, which are rare.
- Your doctor may also order lab tests. Blood, urine and cerebrospinal fluid tests confirm an initial diagnosis. Lab tests check for signs of inflammation, infection, electrolyte imbalances, diseases, cancer, endocrine abnormalities and even nutritional issues.
- For complex cases, your doctor may order special tests. A CAT scan taken for diagnosing back pain can reveal spinal stenosis or a ruptured intervertebral disc. Other ways to gain useful diagnostic information include:
- Imaging tests. These techniques reveal the body’s tissues and structures. An MRI differentiates healthy from diseased tissue. Ultrasound creates images from high-frequency sound waves. Other imaging tests include myelography and thermography.
- Bone scans. These scans show fractures, bone disorders, and infections.
- Electrodiagnostic procedures. Electromyography (EMG), nerve conduction studies, evoked potential (EP) studies and quantitative sensory testing measure the electrical activity of your muscles and nerves. These tests allow your doctor to evaluate symptoms that derive from disease or injury to your nerves or muscles.