Diagnosing back pain

Most cases of back pain do not require medical attention and can be treated with over-the-counter painkillers and self-care.

However, you should visit your GP if you are worried about your condition or struggling to cope with the pain. Your GP will discuss your back pain symptoms with you and examine your back.

Examination and previous history

The examination will usually assess your ability to sit, stand, walk and lift your legs, as well as testing the range of movement in your back.

Your GP may ask you about any illnesses or injuries you may have had, as well as the type of work you do and your lifestyle.

Your back is a complex structure so finding the exact cause of the pain can often be difficult.

Below are some of the questions your GP may ask you. It may be helpful to consider these ahead of your appointment.

  • When did your back pain start?
  • Where are you feeling pain?
  • Have you had back problems in the past?
  • Can you describe the pain?
  • What makes the pain better or worse?

Your GP will want to make sure that your back pain isn’t being caused by a more serious condition. They will ask you some questions to rule out an infection or fracture, although these are uncommon.

If your GP thinks there may be a more serious cause, they will refer you for further tests, such as an X-ray or an MRI scan.

You will be offered information about what you can do to reduce the effects of the pain.

Long-term back pain

If your back pain lasts for more than six weeks (chronic back pain), you may be referred to a specialist trained in providing a particular treatment. This may be a physiotherapist, osteopath, chiropractor, psychologist or an acupuncturist

Some people choose to go straight to one of these specialists as soon as the pain starts. However, in these circumstances, you would have to pay for this care privately.  

If you are not happy with your GP’s diagnosis, or if your symptoms keep returning, go back to your GP or get a second opinion.

Find out about treating back pain

Comments are closed.