How to Diagnose Back Pain

How to Diagnose Back Pain

When you pinch a nerve or pull a muscle in your back, the pain can be excruciating. You know you’re suffering, however, locating the source of the pain can be a whole different story. Just because it feels like it hurts in one spot doesn’t necessarily mean that’s where the injury actually is. Your cause of pain could be something more serious like a spinal condition, nerve issues or potentially even a hip or knee problem.

Breaking Down Back Pain

If you’ve experienced back pain for more than 48-72 hours, the only way how to effectively diagnose back pain is to visit your doctor. Once you do, you’ll undergo an in-depth examination so you can get back to your normal daily activities sooner.

During your first visit, your physician will examine your back and evaluate your ability to sit, stand, walk and lift your legs. Your physician will talk to you about how you are functioning with your pain and they may even ask you to rate your pain on a scale of zero to 10.

These evaluations help determine whether you have muscle aches and where the pain comes from, and how much you can move before pain forces you to cease. They are also able to help rule out more serious origins of pain.

If your doctor feels that a certain condition is the cause of your back pain, your doctor may order one or more of the following tests:


Images are taken to show the alignment of your bones and it can detect whether you have arthritis or, possible broken bones. However, the images alone won’t show spinal cord problems, muscles, nerves or disks.

Blood tests

These types of tests can help figure out whether you have an infection or other potential other condition that could be causing your pain.

Nerve studies

An electromyography (EMG) test measures the electrical impulses created by the nerves and it measures the responses of your muscles. The test can confirm nerve compression which is caused by herniated disks, or the narrowing of your spinal canal (spinal stenosis).

MRI or CT scans

These scans generate images that can reveal herniated disks, pinched nerves, or it can also determine problems with bones, muscles, tissue, tendons, nerves, ligaments and blood vessels.

Bottom line

Many treatments are available for acute low back pain, but the evidence for their benefit is deficient. Based on the evidence they do have, a reasonable approach to treatment for back pain might include physical therapy, patient education, or a prescription for Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which are often the first-line form of therapy for lower back pain. Your doctor may even recommend non-benzodiazepine muscle relaxants or depending on severity, opioids.