Low Back Pain Diagnosis and Treatment
Successful low back pain treatment depends on a proper diagnosis. Patients who are not sure of the cause of their back pain should be evaluated by a medical professional. Once the condition is identified, back pain treatment can begin. This may occur as home treatment, and some self treatments such as foam rolling or stretches. Patients may be given over-the-counter or prescription pain medications to manage pain symptoms. In severe cases, back surgery may be needed to correct the problem.
To diagnose the cause of back pain, medical professionals will evaluate the following:
- What type of back pain the patient is experiencing
- Where the pain occurs within the back, buttock, or leg region
- Whether or not the pain “moves” to other places in the back or leg
- Whether or not other symptoms accompany back pain
- Severity of the back pain, especially at various points during the day
- Whether or not the back pain varies with certain activities or conditions
- What actions or movements reproduce your low back pain
Here is a GREAT educational video on Low Back Pain
How Is Low Back Pain Diagnosed?
- A review of your health history.
- Questions about your specific symptoms.
- A thorough examination that includes assessing the quality and quantity of your movements, and any movement behaviors that might put you at risk for delayed recovery.
- Tests to identify signs or symptoms that could indicate a serious health problem, such as broken bones or cancer.
- Assessment of how you use your body at work, at home, during sports, and at leisure.
For most cases of low back pain imaging tests, such as x-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are not helpful for recovery. For example, in a recently published article comparing patients who received an MRI first vs physical therapy first for low back pain, the patients who received an MRI first spent on average $4,793 more (with similar outcomes in each group). If your physical therapist suspects that your low back pain might be caused by a serious health condition, the therapist will refer you to other health care professionals for further evaluation.
Do You Need an MRI to Diagnose your Low Back Pain?
How Can a Physical Therapist Help Treat My Low Back Pain?
- Stay active, and do as much of your normal routine as possible (bed rest for longer than a day can actually slow down your recovery.)
- If your pain lasts more than a few days or gets worse, schedule an appointment to see your physical therapist.
Not all low back pain is the same, so your treatment should be tailored to for your specific symptoms and condition. Once the examination is complete, your physical therapist will evaluate the results, identify the factors that have contributed to your specific back problem, and design an individualized treatment plan for your specific back problem. Treatments may include:
- Manual therapy, including spinal manipulation, to improve the mobility of joints and soft tissues
- Specific strengthening and flexibility exercises
- Education about how you can take better care of your back
- Training for proper lifting, bending, and sitting; for doing chores both at work and in the home; and for proper sleeping positions
- Assistance in creating a safe and effective physical activity program to improve your overall health
- Use of ice or heat treatments or electrical stimulation to help relieve pain
BECOMING PAINFREE IS EASIER THAN YOU THINK
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