Skip to content

    Back Pain Health Center

    Select An Article

    Back Pain Tests

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Exams and Tests

    Medical history

    Because many different conditions may cause back pain, your doctor will take a thorough medical history as part of the examination. Some of the questions may not seem pertinent to you. But the questions are important to your doctor in determining the source of your pain.

    Your doctor will first ask questions about the onset of pain. (Were you lifting a heavy object and felt an immediate pain? Did the pain come on gradually?) He or she will want to know what makes the pain better or worse. He or she will ask if you have had the pain before.

    Recommended Related to Back Pain

    Nighttime Back Pain

    Nighttime back pain is a special type of lower back pain that could indicate a serious problem with your spine. In the U.S., up to 80% of the population experiences some form of low back pain at some time in their lives. It's the second most common reason people see their doctor. But as debilitating as back pain can be, most instances of it are manageable, and people who get adequate rest and proper exercise often see improvement within a matter of weeks. With nighttime back pain, however,...

    Read the Nighttime Back Pain article > >

    The doctor also will ask about recent illnesses and their symptoms such as coughs, fevers, urinary difficulties, or stomach illnesses. If you are a woman, the doctor will want to know about any vaginal bleeding, cramping, or discharge. Pain from the pelvis is frequently felt in the back.

    Physical examination

    Your doctor will then give you a thorough physical exam. He or she will watch for signs of nerve damage while you walk on your heels, toes, and soles of your feet. The doctor may test your reflexes using a reflex hammer. This is usually done at the knee and behind the ankle. As you lie flat on your back, you'll be asked to elevate one leg at a time, both with and without the doctor's assistance. This is done to test nerves and muscle strength and to assess the presence of tension on the sciatic nerve. The doctor may test sensation using a pin, paper clip, broken tongue depressor, or other sharp object to assess any loss of sensation in your legs.

    Depending on what the doctor suspects is wrong, he or she may perform an abdominal examination, a pelvic examination, or a rectal examination. These exams look for diseases that can cause pain referred to your back. The lowest nerves in your spinal cord serve the sensory area and muscles of the rectum, and damage to these nerves can result in inability to control urination and bowel movement. Thus, a rectal examination may be needed to make sure that you do not have nerve damage.

    Next Article:

    Today on WebMD

    Woman holding lower back
    Or is it another form of back pain?
    Hand on back
    See the myths vs. the facts.
     
    Woman doing pilates
    Good and bad exercises.
    acupuncture needles in woman's back
    Use it to manage your pain.
     
    Man with enhanced spinal column, rear view
    Video
    pain in brain and nerves
    Slideshow
     
    Chronic Pain Healtcheck
    Health Check
    break at desk
    Article
     
    Woman holding lower back
    Slideshow
    Weight Loss Surgery
    Slideshow
     
    lumbar spine
    Slideshow
    back pain
    Article