How is Lower Back Pain Diagnosed?

Lower back pain can sometimes be tricky to diagnose. A number of different conditions can present very similar symptoms. Because of this, it is important to work with a professional who has the skill and experience to find the source of your pain. Once the source is found, an effective treatment plan can be devised. Four out of five people will experience some lower back pain in any given year. While some sources of back pain heal on their own, others require professional treatment.

Lower Back Pain Symptoms

The symptoms that your lower back pain presents with can help us diagnose the cause. Common symptoms can include:

  • pain. This may be an axial pain that is located in one place, a radicular pain that travels or a referred pain that is felt in more than one area. It may also be either an aching pain or one that is sharp.
  • weakness. Some conditions that cause back pain can also make the muscles in the area feel weak.
  • numbness. Some pain that is caused by compression or irritation of the nerves may also cause numbness or tingling.
  • stiffness or reduced range of movement. Sometimes a condition that causes lower back pain will also make it harder for you to move.

Many different lower back problems can present with similar symptoms. Additionally, symptoms can be very individual and can vary from person to person. We assess your symptoms and your medical history to learn more about the potential causes of your pain and the best ways available to treat it.

Tests and Diagnostics

When you see us for back pain, we’ll collect your medical history to learn more about potential causes of your pain. We’ll discuss when your symptoms began, what they feel like and what seems most likely to trigger them. We’ll also do some tests to learn more about the cause of your pain and the best ways to treat it.

Physical Exam

During your physical exam, we’ll assess your ability to engage in activities like standing, bending, walking and sitting down. We’ll assess your range of movement and your pain level on a scale from one to 10. We’ll also see whether certain actions or movements bring on pain. These can help us determine the severity of your pain and can help us learn more about its source. Physical exams alone are sometimes sufficient for diagnosing a lower back problem. However, in other cases, additional testing may be necessary to pinpoint the cause of your pain.

Diagnostic Imaging

In addition to the physical exam, we may need to do one or more diagnostic imaging tests. These can give us more information about the source of your pain and the best way to treat it. Examples of common diagnostic tests include:

  • X-rays. These images show us more about your bones. They can tell us about the alignment of your bones and whether you have issues that can include arthritis or broken bones. X-rays can’t, however, give information about problems with your muscles, nerves or spinal discs.
  • CT and MRI scans. These imaging tests show issues with herniated discs or with the muscles, tissues, nerves, ligaments, bones and blood vessels.
  • Bone scans. In cases where compression fractures or tumors are suspected, these can provide more information.

In addition to these diagnostic imaging tests, we may use other diagnostic tests such as diagnostic nerve blocks. These can help us identify the exact area that is causing an issue. For instance, a disc may stop sending pain signals when it is injected with an anesthetic solution. This can help us pinpoint the source of pain so that we can begin creating an effective treatment path.

Your Next Step

You do not have to live with pain. If you are experiencing back pain that interferes with your life, we can help. Click the banner below to make an appointment with Dr. Harris at PRM today. We can find the source of your pain and create a customized treatment plan for you.