Acute back and neck pain: signs and symptoms

Man holding back

Recognizing acute back and neck pain

Acute back or neck pain can be treated symptomatically but it is important to first rule out any more serious conditions that require ER referral or specialist consultation.1

  • 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

    Next, more specific questions about the pain can help guide treatment options. For example, you can ask:2

    1. “Are you feeling any soreness now?”

    2. “Do you hurt anywhere?”

    3. “Are you having any discomfort?”

    4. “Have you taken any medications for pain?”

    5. “Have you had any soreness that kept you up at night?”

    6. “Have you had trouble with any of your usual day-to-day activities?”

    7. “How intense is your pain?”

  • When to refer your patient for further care

    Appropriate interviewing can also help determine whether the patient should be referred for a more detailed examination.1

    The patient should be immediately referred to an emergency department if the back or neck pain is severe particularly if it also involves the legs or middle and upper back or is accompanied by numbness or loss of strength in the arms or hands.3,4

Understanding acute back and neck pain

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