When to see a doctor about back pain

October 13, 2015

If back pain is affecting your daily life, it's time to take action. Whether your back pain takes the form of a dull ache that doesn't go away or a sharp pain that makes it hard for you to move, don't just grin and bear it -- seek appropriate treatment.

When to see a doctor about back pain

1. Should I see a doctor?

  • In most cases, you'll be able to resolve your back pain with simple self-help measures, such as gentle stretches to prevent stiffness and over-the-counter pain medicines if you need them to keep moving comfortably.
  • Try these measures for a few days and if your pain doesn't improve, consult your doctor.
  • If symptoms such as trouble urinating, fever, unintentional weight loss or numbness in your limbs accompany your back pain, see your doctor right away as these symptoms warrant urgent investigation and treatment.

2. Which doctor should I see?

  • Your primary care doctor should be your first port of call for your back pain.
  • He or she will ask you a range of questions about your back pain, including whether it affects your upper or lower back, when it occurs and how severe it is, and may carry out a physical examination with your consent.
  • In many cases, your doctor will be able to diagnose and treat your back pain at your initial consultation.
  • However, he or she may refer you for further tests, such as X-rays, blood tests or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

3. What treatment will I receive?

  • The treatment you receive for your back pain will depend on the cause of your problem and the severity of your pain.
  • If the cause of your back pain isn't clear, your doctor may advise you to use self-help measures and to return if your pain worsens or doesn't resolve itself over time.
  • If these basic self-help measures don't work for you, your doctor may prescribe stronger pain medications and/or refer you for physical therapy.

4. When should I see a specialist?

  • If you aren't satisfied with your initial diagnosis, or if your back pain doesn't go away after a few weeks of self-help, then ask your primary care doctor to refer you to a specialist.
  • Many different types of doctors specialize in treating back pain, so remember to request the names of specialists who may be a good fit for you.
  • The type of doctor you see, as well as the type of treatment you ultimately receive, could depend on the underlying cause of your back pain.
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