When to seek medical advice
Most back pain disappears with home treatment and self-care. Although it
may take several weeks before back pain completely disappears, you
should feel some improvement within the first 72 hours of self-care. If
not, see your doctor.
In rare cases, back pain can signal a serious medical problem. See a
doctor immediately if your back pain:
Feels constant or
intense, especially at night
Spreads down one
or both legs
numbness or tingling in one or both legs
Causes new bowel
or bladder problems
Is associated with
abdominal pain or pulsation (throbbing)
Is the result of a
fall or blow to your back
Is accompanied by
unexplained weight loss
Also see your doctor if you're older than age 50 or have a history of
back pain or cancer.
Screening and diagnosis
Your doctor will examine your back and assess your ability to sit,
stand, walk and lift your legs. He or she may also test your reflexes
with a rubber hammer. These assessments help determine where the pain
is, what degree of motion you have without pain and whether you have
In most cases, diagnostic tests aren't necessary to confirm the cause of
your pain. However, if your doctor suspects a tumor, fracture, infection
or other disease, you may undergo one or more procedures:
These images show the alignment of your bones and whether you have
degenerative joint disease or broken bones. X-ray images won't
directly show problems with your spinal cord, muscles, fibrous
tissues (fascia), nerves or disks.
resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT) scans.
These scans can generate images that may reveal herniated disks or
problems with bones, muscles, tissue, tendons, nerves, ligaments and
In rare cases, your doctor may use a bone scan to look for bone
tumors or compression fractures caused by osteoporosis. In this
procedure, you'll receive an injection of a small amount of a
radioactive substance (tracer) into one of your veins. The substance
collects in your bones and allows your doctor to detect bone
problems using a special camera.
This test measures the electrical impulses produced by the nerves
and the responses of your muscles. Studies of your nerve conduction
pathways can confirm nerve compression caused by herniated disks or
narrowing of your spinal canal (spinal stenosis).
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