If you have back pain that persists for more then three to five days and home remedies like hot and cold therapy, rest, over-the-counter medications, and massage have not brought you any relief, you should seek medical treatment with a healthcare provider specializing in disorders of the spine. The spine is one of the most complex structures in the human body, so it is critically important to ensure that the professional to whom you entrust your care is appropriately qualified to diagnose and treat your pain. Your goal for the first appointment should be to better understand the intricate anatomy of the spine and provide your care team with the information they need to accurately diagnose your issue. While some people find relief following their first visit, most patients with chronic back pain require more than one appointment to be diagnosed and put on an effective treatment plan. Attitude is one of the most important factors in determining whether or not chronic issues like back pain will resolve, so don’t let it get you down if you don’t have answers immediately. To maximize your chances of full recovery, trust the process laid out by your provider, work closely with your care team, and incorporate their suggestions into your daily life.
After making your appointment and before your first visit with a healthcare provider, there are a few things you should do to make sure you are fully prepared. You will be asked to provide a detailed personal and medical history, so make note of important personal information, like your occupation; the medications, vitamins and other nutritional supplements you currently take; your symptoms, including the sensations through which they manifest, their severity, when and how they began, how frequently they occur, what makes them better, and what makes them worse; anything you’ve done to date to treat your pain; and the mental and emotional stressors in your life. You will also be asked for a detailed family medical history, so make sure you have a good understanding of the health issues facing members of your immediate family (mother, father, siblings and children), living and deceased. Speaking of family, it’s always a good idea to have someone join you for the appointment, if possible, so you have two sets of ears listening to the conversation. It’s easy to miss small details in the middle of an appointment if you’re the only one there, so having a friend or family member to back you up and can be very helpful.
In addition to the detailed personal and medical history, your provider will conduct a thorough physical examination, including palpation and movement, strength, and reflex tests aimed at gauging your current ability to sit, stand, walk and lift your legs. If necessary, they will order and review the diagnostic tests most often used in spine care: x-ray, which allows for the visualization of bone; magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which uses a high-intensity magnetic field to visualize soft tissues; or computed tomography (CT) scans, which allows for a deeper look into the bones of the spine. Based on their initial findings, your provider could also order blood tests, bone density scans and nerve studies. The results of all of these examinations and diagnostic tests will help your healthcare provider pinpoint the cause of your pain and develop a treatment plan aimed at eradicating it.
As stated above, back pain is an incredibly complex condition, so it is possible it will take more than one appointment to diagnose the source of your pain. However, once your care team has arrived at a diagnosis and developed a treatment plan to treat it, these are the basic questions for which you should be certain you have clear answers:
- What is the most likely cause of my back pain and how can I effectively treat it?
- What are the possible side effects of the treatments, including medication, you have suggested for me today?
- How can I best manage my back pain together with the other medical conditions I have?
- How long will I need to undergo treatment to experience relief?
- In addition to the treatments you’ve suggested today, what can I do on my own at home to maximize my chances of getting better?
- What can I do to prevent my back pain from coming back?
Being adequately prepared for your pain management appointments can mean the difference between adequately treating your condition and continuing on in pain. Taking the simple steps outlined above will help prepare you to work collaboratively with your care team towards resolving your back pain quickly and efficiently.