Back Pain: Getting the Most from Your Doctor Visit

You prepared for your driver’s license exam, but have you ever thought of preparing for a doctor’s exam? If not, you’re not alone, most people don’t, but in a heart study patients who received education before surgery spent less time in the ICU and had shorter hospital stays than those who did not get such preparation.

While preparing for your doctor’s consultation about your lower back pain may not produce such dramatic results, it can help you get to the best treatment for your pain quicker.

Back pain is one of the most common reasons people see a doctor with some estimates as high as 80 percent of people experiencing one form of back pain or another during their lifetimes.

Many of these people’s back pain problems have obvious causes, a muscle strain, or injury from car or other type of accident. But when the origin is not so clear, your the doctor relies on your descriptions of the pain to narrow down the diagnosis, and that is where preparation can help you make the most of your doctor visit and get to the best treatment for your pain quicker.

Pinched Nerve vs Disc pain

The problem with back pain of unknown origin is that the pain is usually caused by a spinal disc problem resulting in either irritation of a nerve by a protruding disc or the pain stems from the disc space itself. Differentiating between the two can be confusing, and your doctor will need your help to determine whether the source of the pain is a pinched nerve or degenerated disc.

Pinched nerve pain occurs when the inner core of the disc protrudes out and affects the nearby nerve root. In this case it’s not the disc that hurts, it’s the irritation caused by the disc rubbing against the nerve causing nerve pain. The pain from the nerve can radiate along the path of the nerve to other parts of the body. If the pain radiates into the arms or legs, this pain is often worse than the actual back pain. Neurological problems, such as numbness or weakness, may also occur.

Your doctor refers to this type of pain in the limbs as radiculopathy. When radiculopathy occurs in the lower spine, it is often referred to as sciatica.

Pinched nerves can be caused by herniated discs, bone spurs or a narrowing or stenosis of the bone surrounding the nerve space.

Disc pain originates from within the disc itself and is most often the result of degenerative disc disease.

The pain is caused by a combination of the following:

  • Inflammation –The proteins released into the disc space as the disc degenerates can cause inflammation and pain.
  • Abnormal micromotion –If the outer rings of cartilage that encapsulate the disc, known as the annulus, break down, it can result in abnormal micromotion that can cause pain as the body tries to compensate for the abnormal motion resulting in inflammation. Muscles in the area may spasm, which can cause the sharp, shooting pains typical of a degenerated disc.

To help your doctor identify the source of your pain you can be prepared to answer these questions:

  • How long has the lower back pain been present?
  • Have you had previous episodes of back pain and treatment?
  • How does the pain affect your work? Is there a link between your work and the current pain?
  • Where is the back pain specifically?
  • Is there more lower back pain or more pain in the legs?
  • What movements or positions make the lower back pain better?
  • What movements or positions make the lower back pain worse?
  • How does the pain interfere with sports or leisure activities that you like to do?
  • What back pain treatments have you tried?

You can also prepare by writing down a list of questions you may have for your doctor, and bring a voice recorder to your doctor visit. How many times have you gotten back to your car in the parking lot and slapped yourself on the forehead and said, “I should have asked this or that?”

In short, making the most of your doctor visit is a matter of preparation, which is why Dr. Michael Gomez provides educational resources on his website to help you prepare for not only an initial consultation, but throughout the diagnosis and treatment process.

If you are experiencing lower back pain, Dr. Michael Gomez’s approach is to listen to you and tailor treatment to you in partnership with a specialized physical therapy and rehabilitation center as well as connections with the excellent hospitals in the county in a seamless continuum of care.

To find out more, please visit the website or call 786-456-4152.