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Symptoms of Back Pain

Communicating Your Back Pain Symptoms to Your Doctor


Updated April 28, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Man holding back in pain
Andersen Ross/Photodisc/Getty Images

Back and neck pain are subjective -- there are few, if any, definitive tests that can measure and diagnose the experience. Therefore, it falls on you to communicate your back pain symptoms to your doctor. By accurately noting your symptoms, and giving your doctor a clear picture of them, you are taking an important step toward getting a diagnosis. Here are some things to note:

Pain Intensity

How bad does it hurt? Intensity is a measure of how strong the signals of felt pain are. As a back pain sufferer, this is probably the most important part of the ordeal for you. Intensity levels fluctuate, so it is impossible to get a useful, accurate measurement of them from objective testing. Instead, doctors and other health care providers use visual assessment tools and questionnaires to help you communicate your level of pain.


Download a Pain Chart and Keep Track of Your Daily Pain

Type of Pain

The types of painful feelings you have in your back or neck are an indication of what is going on in your spine. For example, if you experience burning, stabbing or electrical sensations down one leg or arm, it may indicate an irritated nerve. If your back muscles feel stiff or tight you may have pain due to an injury, or posture problems, or both.


More Information on Types of Pain

Location of Pain

The location of your pain may or may not be related to damage or an injury in your spine. If a nerve is affected, the pain may radiate down an arm or leg, as is the case in sciatica. If you have trigger points or other myofascial pain, you might experience referred pain -- pain located in an area that is seemingly unrelated to the actual site of the problem. Pain is often located in more than one area of the body.


A body diagram can be used to map and track the location of the pain as it changes (or doesn't) over time. The body diagram is also a tool to help you communicate your symptoms of back pain clearly and accurately to your doctor.

In an effort to identify the cause of your back pain, your doctor might use the information you provide about the location of your pain to probe for more details.

Next: Pain Patterns and Disruption of Daily Activities

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