Back pain: Signs and symptoms
Recognising back and neck pain
Back pain can be treated symptomatically but it is important to first rule out any underlying conditions that require attention from a physician.
- Upper and middle back pain may present as aching, stiffness or sharp/burning sensations in that area1
- Symptoms of lower back pain typically include tension/stiffness or soreness in that area1
Questions to ask your patient
It is important to first take a general assessment of the patient’s pain, by asking about severity, onset, location and timing of the pain.2,3
Next, more specific questions about back and neck pain can help guide treatment options, for example, you can ask:2
- Where exactly does it hurt?
- Do you feel pain anywhere else other than just the back or neck?
- Describe the pain. Is it sharp? Or a dull ache? Does it feel sore? Or stiff? Or do you feel a particular sensation such as prickling?
- Is the pain present all the time or does it just occur when you move, or perform a particular activity?
- Does the pain ease after you have rested? Or does it get worse?
- When did the pain start? Had anything happened before then that could explain the pain, for example a fall or an injury?
When to refer your patient for further care
Appropriate interviewing can also help determine whether the patient should be referred for more detailed review.
The patient should be immediately referred to an emergency department if the back pain is severe (particularly if it also involves the legs or middle and upper back),4 or if it is accompanied by any of the following:1
- Numbness or tingling around the genitals or buttocks
- Difficulty urinating
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Chest pain
- Fever of 38°C or above
- Unexplained weight loss
- A swelling or a deformity in the back
- It doesn't improve after resting or is worse at night
- It started after a serious accident, such as after a car accident
Investigations that may be carried out
Once referred, physicians may conduct tests to rule out serious underlying causes, for example:4
- X-rays to show skeletal alignment and diagnosis of 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 conditions with haematological biomarkers
- Bone scans are used in rare cases for suspected bone tumours or compression fractures caused by osteoporosis
- Electromyography to confirm nerve compression caused by herniated disks or narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis)
Understanding back pain
Overview of sprains and strains
Learn more about sprains and strains, and meet two patients with these conditions.
Voltaren Rapid 25
Unlike non-NSAID pain killers that treat pain only, diclofenac, the active ingredient in Voltaren Rapid 25 has a dual action – it treats pain and reduces inflammation to help manage strong pain, such as back pain.5,10
Voltaren Emulgel with No Mess Applicator for strains and sprains6
Relieves muscle pain and reduces inflammation. 7-9
The No Mess Applicator enables targeted, effective pain relief straight from the tube to the point of pain, without messy fingers.