Skip to content

Back Pain Health Center

Font Size

Evaluating Low Back Pain - Topic Overview

Your doctor can learn a lot about what is causing low back pain or other symptoms by watching you as you move, and by doing simple tests.

Here are some of the things your doctor may do to evaluate your low back pain:

Recommended Related to Back Pain

Medications for Low Back Pain

About one in four Americans has experienced low back pain within the past three months, making it one of the most common types of pain and the most frequent cause of disability in adults under 45. Although pain medication can’t actually heal a back injury, it can relieve pain and open a window for other treatments -- such as physical therapy -- to have a chance to work. There are multiple categories and types of medications for back pain; depending on how severe your symptoms are, how long you’ve...

Read the Medications for Low Back Pain article > >

  • Observe how you move. Spasms of the muscles next to the spine can create pain with any of these tests.
    • Walking. You walk while your doctor watches you for things like how you move and carry your body, and whether you limp or favor one leg as you walk. Your doctor may also watch to see how you sit down, lie down, and get up.
    • Flexion. You bend forward and try to touch your toes. If bending forward causes pain, it may mean you have a disc problem.
    • Extension. You hyperextend your back by bending backward. Pain that increases when bending backward (extending the spine) suggests degenerative changes, spinal stenosis, or spondylolisthesis.
    • Rotation and side bending. You rotate your back by keeping your hips still and turning your upper body from side to side to do a rotation test. For side bending you bend to one side, then the other, keeping your hips level and not letting your body rotate. In each of these tests, your doctor will be watching differences between the two sides, such as whether you can bend farther to one side than the other.
  • Look at the shape of your back to check for uneven bone development or position, differences in leg lengths, and exaggerated curvature of the spine.
  • Tap on the spine. If you feel pain when your spine is tapped, you may have a problem such as a fracture, an infection at or near the site of tenderness, or a tumor.
  • Measure how much your chest expands when you breathe in, especially if you are age 20 to 40 (particularly males because they are at highest risk for ankylosing spondylitis). If you are unable to expand your chest normally when you fully inhale, you may have a form of inflammatory arthritis. These forms of arthritis may affect the places where the ribs attach to the back and the breastbone and make it hard to fully expand your chest when you breathe.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
1
Next Article:

Evaluating Low Back Pain Topics

Today on WebMD

Woman holding lower back
Or is it another form of back pain?
Hand on back
Eight out of 10 us will have it. Here’s 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