Your First Doctor Visit for Back Pain

How to prepare and what to expect during a quality visit

By Dr. Michael J. Cooney

Photo credit: www.betterhealthalaska.comIf you have back pain, it’s important to “choose your words” carefully when you initially meet with your medical doctor or chiropractor the first time. If you say you have “back pain,” this should be the starting point for a careful and thorough physical examination to diagnose the cause. Jot down when the pain started, its frequency, and when the pain lessens or becomes more severe. Explain what you cannot physically do since the onset of the pain. Also, be prepared to talk about your mattress and pillow and how many hours a day you are on your feet.

Seven things your doctor should do during your first visit

That’s your prep work. Now here’s what a good doctor should do (at a minimum) during your initial examination:

  1. Review your general medical history and overall health; discuss if the back pain is a result of an acute trauma or a chronic issue.
  2. Address a potential problem with the disc (a cartilage ligament that separates the vertebrae)
  3. Discuss the potential of a muscle strain as opposed to an injury of the spine.
  4. Determine if the joints of the spine move in a free and symmetrical pattern.
  5. Gently move the back in different planes; if the pain is not too extreme.
  6. Touch and manipulate tissues of the spine to identify swelling (inflammation) or tenderness.
  7. Take x-rays to check for a plethora of issues such as proper spine alignment, posture and scoliosis.

Painkillers and opiates are not the solution to pain
Each of these points collectively plays a critical role in helping the doctor to diagnose the nature of the problem. It's not enough to just call the pain “the problem” and hand off a prescription for a painkiller. Sadly, this happens to far too many patients who are left thinking that if they just take something to cover up the pain, it will make the problem go away.

Rather, in many cases, taking expensive and potentially debilitating pain medication for long periods of time can lead to serious side effects such as stomach bleeding, impaired mobility, and loss of mental clarity. Keep in mind, for some patients, the patient is critical to regaining health. However, too often, prescription drugs are used as a panacea, particularly when it comes to back pain.

In fact, a recent study conducted by Dr. Bruce Landon of Harvard Medical School found that more doctors than ever are prescribing prescription narcotics for back pain than ever before.1

Remember, you are the customer, even when it comes to doctors.