Anatomy Basics for Back Pain Back Pain or Dorsopathy Basics Back Pain Signs & Symptoms
Medical Advice in Back Pain Back Pain Risk Factors Back Pain Common Causes
Medical Causes Rare Medical Causes Back Pain Complications
Screening and Diagnosis Self-Care and Treatment Medications and Therapies
Chronic Back Pain Treatments Surgery and Other Treatments Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Back Pain Prevention Statistics for Back Pain Glossary of Terms

Back Pain Screening and Diagnosis

Diagnostic tests are usually not required to determine presence back pain.  With that said, one or more tests may be necessary to help diagnose the exact cause(s) of the pain.

Initially, your doctor will study your back and a range of other factors, such as your capacity to walk, raise each leg, sit, stand, and also check your reflexes.  These simple examinations can help determine the source of the pain, what may be causing the pain, what range of movement you have until you experience pain, and determine if you have any other symptoms, such as numbness, weakness, or muscle spasms.  Depending on the results of these simple tests, other serious back pain causes may be ruled out, or additional tests may be required.

If a more serious cause for back pain, such as fracture, tumour, infection, or some other condition, is suspected then your doctor will arrange at least one of the following tests:

Computed Tomography Scan (CAT or CT scan)

A CAT scan is performed by a computer linked to an x-ray machine that takes a series of pictures of areas of interest inside body from a variety of angles.  The pictures are then combined using a computer to give a detailed three dimensional (3D) image of the area.  CT scans generate pictures that may indicate problems with bones, herniated discs, or issues with muscles, blood vessels, tendons, nerves, and ligaments.  In addition, CAT scans are very useful in the diagnosis and monitoring of cancer.  CAT scans are capable of detecting extremely small tumours and enable doctors to determine if a tumour has spread.

Electromyography (EMG)

This is a medical technique for measuring, recording, and evaluating electrical impulses generated by nerves and how muscles respond to these impulses, either at rest or while contracting.  EMG is uses an instrument called an electromyograph to produce a record called an electromyogram.  The electromyograph detects the electrical potential generated by muscle cells when the muscles contract, and also when the muscles are at rest.  This information can be useful for studying nerve and muscle function.  Studying the pathways of nerve-conduction can indicate whether nerve compression or pinching is occurring.  Such compression or pinching may be caused by the spinal canal becoming narrower (a condition known as Spinal Stenosis) or a Herniated Disc.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

It also known as Magnetic Resonance Tomography (MRT) and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR).  An MRI scan is performed by a computer linked to a powerful magnet, and utilising radio frequency waves, to create clear images of internal structures of body, including the muscles, nerves, brain, spinal cord, and bones.  The images produced show the presence of tumours, fractures, and other abnormalities.  An MRI can provide important and highly useful information about tissues and organs, particularly nervous system, that is not available by using other imaging techniques.  MRI scans have also found a range of novel applications outside of the medical and biological fields, such as rock permeability studies, hydrocarbons studies, and produce studies, and timber quality characterization studies.


These uses specially focused and aimed bursts of radiation to take pictures of areas inside body.  The amount of radiation used in most X-Rays and other diagnostic tests are so small that it poses little risk to patient under normal usage levels.  X-ray images allow a doctor to see if any bones are out of alignment and also see whether you have any broken bones or other bone abnormalities.  However, X-ray images have their limitations.  For example, they cannot directly show problems with the spinal cord, muscles, fibrous tissues (called Fascia), nerves, or discs.

Please Note: If pain could be a result of any of rarer or more exotic causes of back pain, such as Arthritis, Cauda Equina Syndrome, or cancer or infection of the spine or spinal cord, then special, additional diagnostic tests may be required to either confirm or rule out a diagnosis for these conditions.  If any of these conditions are found to exist, then suitable treatments, in addition to those required to treat the back pain, should also be sought as soon as possible.

Back Pain

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