Why Is Back Pain Difficult to Diagnose?
March 2022

The body is full of nerves, some more sensitive and susceptible to irritation than others. There are even potential scenarios where an injury or condition affecting one part of the body causes pain to manifest in another part of the body.

The central nervous system is hugely complex. The spine has more than 120 muscles, 100 joints and 220 ligaments. There are 31 pairs of spinal nerve roots, with a pair of cervical nerves exiting each vertebral level.

To put it simply, there are a lot of things that can go wrong with a complex part of the body like the spine. Low back pain is often caused by nerve irritation in the lumbar vertebrae. However, determining what causes that irritation and how to best manage the pain and treat the damage isn’t simple.

Orthopaedic doctors with extensive experience in pain management often must run a variety of diagnostic tests to pinpoint the root cause of low back pain.

Back Pain May Not Be Due to Any of Those Bones, Muscles, Ligaments or Nerves

An even more vexing reality of chronic pain is its source isn’t necessarily a straightforward, localized problem. Nerves can start sending the wrong pain signals or suffer damage that prevents the proper transfer of pain information from the nerves to the brain. There are many different types of neuropathic pain with multiple potential causes.

Neuropathic pain can be caused by diabetes, alcoholism, strokes, viral infections, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis (MS) or certain types of trauma.

Pain Symptoms Help Determine an Accurate Diagnosis

The more detailed patients can be when describing their pain, the easier it will be for a pain management doctor to arrive at an accurate diagnosis. For example, neuropathic pain is frequently described as feeling like a limb falling asleep, pins and needles, burning sensations, difficulties judging temperature, numbness and severe pain.

Pinched nerves are often sharper pains that radiate outward, but those too can result in tingling and a pins and needles sensation.

That’s why, in order to make an accurate diagnosis, pain doctors need to consider more than just diagnostic testing and your own descriptions of the pain. They should be learning about the scenarios in which you’re feeling the pain or relief from your chronic pain symptoms.

Diagnosing Back Pain Based on Lifestyle Factors

Some people experience back pain after waking up or from standing for long periods of time. Others may find relief from back pain by bending over, or even standing and walking. A doctor can potentially learn a lot about the source of your back pain based on the actions that cause your pain to manifest or bring you relief.

For example, flexion dominant back pain tends to be made worse by bending or sitting, and patients may experience pain in their legs in addition to their back. Conversely, people with extension dominant back pain my find relief when sitting or bending.

An orthopaedic doctor skilled at diagnosing the source of back pain will want to know about your life and exactly when your back pain most frequently occurs.

Pain Is Subjective

People experience pain on a spectrum of intensity levels. What one person might consider severe could be tolerable and mundane for another. In addition to making the root problem harder to diagnose, the subjective experience of pain can also have a significant impact on treatment choices. Two patients with the same type of pain might need dramatically different treatments if the pain is bearable for one person but debilitating for the other.

Be Honest With Your Orthopaedic Pain Management Doctor

Your lifestyle can play a significant role in the type of pain you’re experiencing, and the solution to your pain could be found in lifestyle changes.

For example, certain types of back or joint pain may be caused by obesity or could be related to diabetes. You could potentially find relief by adopting healthy lifestyle changes or combine those changes with the non-invasive pain management solutions offered by Non-Surgical Orthopaedic.

Our Marietta and Carrollton pain doctors will take the time necessary to accurately pinpoint the source of your pain and develop a treatment plan to help you manage pain and, ideally, eliminate it at the source. Call us at 770-421-1420 for a consultation.