Signs & Symptoms of Back Pain

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Back pain usually comes along with symptoms that are highly recognizable despite resulting from a number of causes. General stiffness, shooting pains, or localized pains that worsen when patients move their backs are all classic symptoms of back pain. It’s important to thoroughly discuss these symptoms with your patients as you work towards delivering diagnoses and treatment plans that can help to get them back on track. See below for quick tips and references that will help you to better discuss and assess your patients’ back pain symptoms.

  • Assessing the severity, onset, location and timing of a patient’s pain is critically important.

    To help inform treatment recommendations, it’s useful to ask specific symptom-related questions, including:

    • 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 perform specific activities?
    • Does rest ease the pain? Does it get worse?

    For a more detailed guide on effectively assessing your patients’ symptoms, download our #ListenToPain Patient Pain Assessment Guide.

    For advice on how to more meaningfully engage with your patients and gain useful insights into their experiences with pain, download our #ListenToPain Pain Consultation Guide.

  • 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
  • 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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