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How is chronic low back pain diagnosed?

During the evaluation of chronic back pain, it is important to rule out any injuries or disease processes that could place you at risk of further injury if not treated or addressed. Clarification of the diagnosis is a key step in creating a pain management program.

A good patient history and a thorough physical examination by a well-trained clinician are the most important aspects of the evaluation. Serious injuries and illnesses can often be diagnosed or ruled out based on the history and physical examination alone. However, the lack of a definite diagnosis does not necessarily mean more testing is needed. Needless tests do not add anything to what your healthcare provider has already discovered in his or her physical examination. (In fact, unnecessary testing is not only expensive, but it could expose you to unnecessary risks or radiation.)

If your healthcare provider feels that more testing is needed based on your history and physical examination findings, he or she will discuss with you the appropriate tests to be ordered. Testing may include blood tests, radiography (x-ray films), bone scans, computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), diagnostic injections, electromyography (EMG) and many other specialized tests.

Many times, the exact cause of the pain is still not well defined at the end of the evaluation. Nevertheless, an evaluation is successful if it has ruled out those processes that could place you at risk if not treated.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.