Back Pain : Signs and Symptoms

Woman holding back

Recognizing Back Pain

Back pain, while possibly generating from a number of causes, has symptoms that are highly recognizable. General stiffness, shooting pains, or pains that worsen when patients move their backs are all classic symptoms of back pain.

  • Questions to ask your patient

    Assesing severity, onset, location, and timing of a patient’s pain is really important.

    To more specifically guide treatment options, you may ask more specific questions, like:

    • How did the pain start?
    • Where does it hurt?
    • Is the pain local or radiating?
    • Is the pain present all the time, or just when you move or preform specific activities?
    • Does rest ease the pain? Does it get worse?
  • When to refer your patient for further care1

    If your patient is experiencing back pain following a serious fall, and/or is accompanied by any of these other symptoms, it may be time to refer them to a specialist.

    • New bowel or bladder problems
    • Fever
    • Severe pain that has not improved with rest
    • Pain that spreads doen one or both legs, especially below the knee(s)
    • Weakness or tingling in one or both legs
    • Unexplained weight loss
  • Testing that may be carried out1

    Once referred, physicians may conduct tests to rule out serious underlying causes, for example:

    • X-rays to show skeletal alignment and diagnose if you have arthritis or fractures
    • Magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography scans for herniated disks or problems with bones, muscles, tissue, tendons nerves, ligaments, and blood vessels
    • Blood tests to identify infection or other condition with hematological biomarkers
    • Bone scans are used in rare cases for suspected bone tumors or compression fractures caused by osteoporosis
    • Electromyography to confirm nerve compression caused by herniated disks or narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis)

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