Back pain can be hard to diagnose without a proper description from the patient. For example, many types of back pain are test-negative. That means, the doctor can’t detect anything wrong even when they use X-rays or other diagnostic methods. When this happens, the doctor can only proceed based on information that they get from the patient.
So, it’s imperative that you know exactly what to tell your doctor. This will help them to figure out the cause and decide if your back pain is chronic or acute. It can get complicated because the pain may be from the joints or it may be myofascial pain, or even due to an injury.
So, what do you tell your doctor?
While you do not need to go all the way back and talk about your childhood memories, you do need to inform your doctor if you had a fall 3 months back or an injury that started the back pain. If you’re suffering from diabetes, your doctor should be aware of that too. The pain in your back could be due to peripheral neuropathy.
When did it start?
If you notice that your back pain began ever since you started your new job as a bus driver, then you might be having acute back pain due to sitting too long. This is just one example. What your doctor will need to know is when the pain started and how long have you been enduring it.
Where exactly is the pain located?
Is the pain in your lower back or upper back? Sometimes the place where it hurts doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the area that’s affected. People with sciatica may feel shooting pains down their leg when it’s their lower back that’s affected. In the same way, if you have headaches, it may actually be your upper spine that’s affected.
You have to be very clear with your description so that your doctor can ascertain the root cause. Knowing where the pain radiates to will also be a good indicator of what type of back pain you’re going through.
Did you do anything to make it feel better?
Sometimes the way you find relief may indicate what type of pain you have. If you lie flat on the floor and find relief, you may have acute back pain due to sitting too long. If you find relief by bending your trunk forward, that means your sacroiliac joint is painful and you may have a lumbar-facet issue here.
While you don’t need to know the exact medical terminology, just informing your doctor about what brings you relief will be an indicator of the type of pain you have.
On the flip side, you should also know what worsens your condition. Maybe carrying a bag of groceries has left you in agony. Or it could be immense pain after a bowel movement which indicates herniation.
All these little pieces of information are like parts of a jigsaw puzzle that when put together, will help your doctor see the big picture.
How long does it last?
This is especially applicable to chronic or episodic pain. Most types of acute back pain go away after a while, with medication and treatment. Knowing how long the pain lasts and when they occur will be useful information.
Besides these questions, your doctor will ask you about your family history to see if it’s a hereditary condition. You may be asked to describe the intensity of your pain and how it affects your lifestyle, etc.
Be honest and as detailed as possible. This will allow your doctor to do a proper diagnosis and narrow down the root cause to treat it in an effective and timely manner. If you have kept a diary of your symptoms then that’s even better to show your Doctor.