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Back pain - when you see the doctor

Definition

When you first see your health care provider for back pain, you will be asked questions about your back pain, including how often it occurs and how severe it is.

Your provider will try to determine the cause of your pain and whether it is likely to quickly get better with simple measures, such as ice, mild painkillers, physical therapy, and exercise.

Information

Questions your health care provider may ask may include:

You will also be asked if you have other symptoms, which may be a sign of a more serious cause. Tell your health care provider if you have had weight loss, fever, a change in urination or bowel habits, or a history of cancer.

Your health care provider will perform a physical exam to try to find the exact location of your pain, and determine how it affects your movement. You will be asked to:

If the pain is worse when you lift your legs straight up while lying down, you may have sciatica, especially if you also feel numbness or tingling in one of your legs.

Your health care provider will also move your legs into different positions, including bending and straightening your knees.

A rubber hammer is used to check your reflexes and to see if your nerves are working properly. Your provider will touch your skin in many places, using a pin, cotton swab, or feather. This reveals how well you can feel, or sense, things. tests.

References

Chou R, Qaseem A, Snow V, et al. Diagnosis and treatment of low back pain: a joint clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society. Ann Intern Med. 2007;147:478-491.



Review Date: 8/12/2013
Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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