When Should I See A Doctor For Back Pain?

Most back pain can be treated at home, but here’s when it may be time to do more.

Back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide. It’s one of the most common reasons people miss work and go to the doctor. And it’s very likely that at some point in your life, you may experience pain or discomfort in your back. Approximately 80% of the population does. 

The good news is that most of the time, back pain goes away with a few days or weeks of modified activity and self-care. But there are times when your pain does not go away after a short time or the pain is severe, gets worse or comes back again once it’s gone. When that occurs, it’s best to schedule an appointment with your doctor.

What can I expect during my office visit?

Each physician and each health issue is different, but here’s an idea of what may occur during your visit:

  • Medical history. Your doctor will ask questions about your medical history or will ask for updates to your history since your last visit if you are already a patient.
  • Description of your pain. You’ll be asked about the specifics of your back pain such as where the pain is located, when the pain started, what you were doing when the pain began (or shortly before you had pain), what causes the pain to be better or worse and what you have done so far to try to treat the pain.
  • Physical exam. The doctor will also perform a physical exam and will likely test your neurological function, range of motion, muscle strength, reflexes and whether the pain travels to other parts of your body.
  • Referrals. You may be referred for imaging tests to get a better look at the bone and soft tissue of your spine and surrounding area. The most common imaging tests to diagnose the source of back pain include x-rays, CT scans and MRIs. You may also be referred to a specialist for further evaluation or for physical therapy.

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Date Last Reviewed: June 24, 2019

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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