How to Diagnose Neck and Back Pain

Neck and back pain is a common occurrence today, thanks to our busy routines and improper work-life balance. While on some occasions the pain comes and goes by itself, there are instances when the pain increases with time. This silent pain ends up hampering the routine and results in great distress for the person affected.

As a person suffering from chronic back or neck pain it is imperative for you to be aware of the processes that are followed in diagnosing the reasons for the pain.

Your treatment begins with the visit to a doctor, where a medical assistant or a nurse jots down all the relevant information. The assistant will ask for the specific spot of the neck and back pain during the pre-examination session. This followed by collection of relevant information which summarizes the current symptoms and how long the duration lasts.

The medical assistant also collects information on blood pressure, weight, height, current medications and other essential information including the medical history.

Medical History

A medical history helps the doctor in contextualizing the necessary information and understanding the current symptoms while narrowing down the reasons for the symptoms. The doctor can gain information regarding your exercise habits to assess the reasons aggravated the existing condition.

Here is a list of some important queries that are noted down when collecting medical information.

  • Past instances of neck or back pain, including the diagnosis and the methods used for treatment
  • A comprehensive list of the existing symptoms which includes when the pain began and the area where the pain is felt the most. It also includes the mention of whether the pain is intermittent or constant and other symptoms that accompany the pain
  • Medical history, which contains information regarding neck and back pain and issues with the overall health.
  • Recent or past injuries that are contributing to the pain

Factors such as emotional or social health may also be added in the medical history. It is imperative to submit all details during the pre-examination checkup as it will help the doctors in diagnosing the problem.

Physical Examination

Following the pre-examination checkup is the actual examination by the doctor. The examination builds from the medical history to further narrow down the causes of the pain. A physical exam for the symptoms of the pain can involve numerous tests which include the following.

Reflex Tests

In this test the reflexes of the muscle are tested with the help of a reflex hammer. Weakened or poor reflexes indicate irritation in the nerve root.

Sensation Testing

The next test is called sensation testing; this test helps in determining whether your skin can feel pin pricks or light touch.

Movement Tests

Another test that is used to check the range of motion and to recreate the pain of the medical condition is called the Movement test. Bending forward, backward or side-to-side are common movement tests used by doctors and physicians to recreate the pain that is caused by the herniation of a disc.

Strength Testing

Like the other tests, this is another exercise which helps us in determining any specific weakness in the specific muscle groups such as the legs or the arms.


Sensing the abnormalities in the spine region with the help of the hand is called the palpation test. This test allows the doctors in checking for any problems in the bony alignment of the body. You can also test for areas of tenderness.

Generally the use of medical history and physical examinations is enough to find out the reason for the back and neck pain.

When do you need a Diagnostic Test

You don’t necessarily need additional testing methods for treating the neck or back pain. However, if the initial tests fail in diagnosing the problem, here is a list of some tests that medical facilities use to find out the problem.

Injection Tests

The first test is used to confirm the source of the test and its location. The test involves the injection of an aesthetic or steroid in the most painful area of the spine.

X-ray Scan

These tests are also called radiographic tests and involve the use of two-dimensional projection of the joints and the bones.

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)

The MRI scan helps in creating a detailed image that helps in analyzing the spinal cord. This includes the area under pain and the soft tissues and the nerve roots that surround the area. The muscles, spinal discs and ligaments are all available for survey after the MRI scan.

CT scan

This test uses the help of x-rays in creating a series of images which are then processed to create a cross-sectional and detailed image of the bone. Doctors can also perform CT scans with the help of myelogram which injects dye around the spine to provide the medical experts with additional information about the nerves and the spinal cord.

Diagnostic testing helps in confirming a suspected reason for the pain. More often than not the pain emerges because of stenosis, arthritis or a herniated disc. Imaging tests are also used to create a roadmap for the treatment procedures. The test helps in creating a plan and procedure for solving the condition especially if surgery is recommended.

In most cases doctors need a single test to confirm or locate the source of the pain. A combination of tests helps in providing the user with further confirmation regarding the tests.

When going to visit the doctor to discuss your condition you should be aware of the basics. It is imperative to stand in front of the mirror and ask yourself the following questions

  • When the pain started
  • How does the pain actually feels like
  • Treatments you attempted to cure the illness
  • Why you think you feel the pain
  • How regular is the pain during the day
  • Other symptoms

Being aware of answers to these basic questions will help you in explaining the condition and the problem in a much more effective manner to your doctor.