Visiting your doctor for lower back pain is more common than you might think. It's the second-most common reason that Americans see their primary care physician. Lumbar pain felt in your lower back can come from the spine, muscles, nerves or other nearby structures. It might also be due to problems in your mid- or upper back, the testicles or ovaries, or a hernia in the groin.
You may feel a variety of symptoms if you've hurt your back. You may have a tingling or burning sensation, a dull achy feeling, or sharp pain. Depending on the cause, you also may have weakness in your legs or feet.
When you first see your doctor, you'll be asked questions about your back pain, including how often it occurs and how severe it is. Your doctor will try to determine the cause of your back pain and whether it's likely to quickly get better with simple measures such as ice, mild painkillers, physical therapy, and proper exercises. Most of the time, back pain will get better using these approaches.
During a physical exam, your doctor will try to pinpoint the location of the pain and figure out how it affects your movement. Your doctor also will move your legs in different positions, including bending and straightening your knees, to assess your strength as well as your mobility. To test nerve function, the doctor will use a rubber hammer to check your reflexes. Touching your legs in many locations with a pin, cotton swab, or feather tests your sensory nervous system.
Tests that might be ordered include an X-ray, myelogram (an X-ray or CT scan of the spine after dye has been injected into the spinal column), CT of the lower spine, or MRI of the lower spine.
Many people benefit from physical therapy. The physical therapist will begin by using methods to reduce your pain. Then, the therapist will teach you ways to prevent getting back pain again.
If your pain lasts longer than one month, your primary care doctor might send you to see either an orthopedist or neurologist.
Hospitalization, traction, or spinal surgery are more extreme and typically are only considered if nerve damage is present or the condition fails to heal after a prolonged period.