Back Pain Diagnosis and Tests

The causes of back pain are multi-factorial, which makes the whole process of back pain diagnosis more complex. Sure, some diagnoses of back pain are more straightforward, especially tumors, fractures and infections, but there are still some for which spine specialist find little agreement regarding the diagnosis.

Back Pain Diagnosis

Back Pain Diagnosis

This is especially the case because an accurate back pain diagnosis is important and requires a specific treatment approach. Also, the sooner you make a diagnosis on a patient, the sooner you can find the proper treatment for pain management and improvement of everyday life.

Diagnosis of Back Pain

Medical diagnosis of back pain serves to find the cause of the pain that troubles a patient. Generally speaking, there are three steps that doctors follow when determining the underlying cause of back pain:

  1. Patient’s Medical History Review

If you decide to visit the doctor for your back pain, you will be asked a serious of questions. These questions will include asking about the time when the symptoms occurred, how long they lasted, pain description, during which activities, during which positions etc. Additionally, the doctor may ask you which treatment brought you pain relief, if you have taken any medications.

  1. Physical Examination

A thorough physical exam of a back pain patient is a must when diagnosing the cause. This includes testing the muscle strength in the arms and legs, the nerve function, testing for pain and more. Usually, it is these tests that give the doctors the best perspective at what the problem may be.

  1. Diagnostic Testing

Diagnostic testing includes a CT, MRI scan and x-rays. These are recommended in cases where the doctors need to confirm the cause of the pain in the back of the patient,

a. MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging

MRI is done with the use of magnetic field and radio frequency. The aim is to create a picture of the organs, the soft tissues and the bones of the patients and to give the doctor a chance to see the spinal cord’s condition. Additionally, the doctor can have a look at the spine’s discs and the nerves, which are most commonly affected when a patient is suffering from this condition.

Using this test for diagnosis is controversial because many experts and researchers believe that many of the abnormalities it shows are often completely unrelated to the pain of the patient,

b. X-rays

X-rays are one form of radiation that includes radio waves that focus into a beam. These have the ability to pass through the human body and make a picture that is sent to a computer or exposes a film for the doctor to see afterwards. Bones and other bodily dense tissues absorb the x-rays and can appear white on the picture. On the other hand, the tissues that are less dense, including the organs and the muscles, block less of the x-rays. These look like gray shades on the computer picture or the film. The third look black on the picture and actually pass trough air, like in the cases of the lings.

We are actually speaking of pictures of the human’s spine, which are often taken to determine the diseases and injuries of the joints and discs located in the spine. These injuries and diseases include infections, dislocations, spinal fractures, tumors, disc disease, scoliosis and bone spurs.

There are four most common types of this back pain test:

  • Thoracic spine x-ray, which takes pictures of the thoracic bones (chest bones). There are 12 chest bones
  • Cervical spine x-ray, which takes pictures of the cervical bones. The cervical (neck) bones are 7 in the human body.
  • Lumbosacral spine X-ray takes pictures of the lower back bones, also called lumbar vertebrae. There are 5 such bones. Additionally, it takes pictures of the 5 fused bones in the sacrum or the bottom of the spine.
  • Coccyx x-ray takes a view at the sacrum bones and the tailbone bones. The tailbone is also called coccyx.

Spinal X-rays are most commonly done with the purpose of determining the cause of a weakness, numbness or ongoing pain, checking for arthritis between the vertebrae and the discs degeneration, checking for dislocations, fractures, infections, bone spurs, tumors, checking for scoliosis, congenital conditions or changes that occur after a spinal surgery is performed.

c. CT scan

This back pain test is also called CAT scan. It is actually a more detailed X-ray that provides doctors with a better picture. This picture is clearer in terms of bones anatomy. The CT scans are generally used to rule out the major problems, but are not considered to be most effective of all tests.

In most cases, the patients’ back pain symptoms disappear or get better. If the back pain persists, the doctor must look for more detailed picture of what the pain causes may be.