Whilst pain itself does not need to be diagnosed by a doctor, the underlying reason(s) why we experience back pain may be more difficult to pinpoint. In the vast majority of cases, your doctor will try to work out what’s wrong with you by asking you to describe what your back pain feels like. It may help you to think about how you would answer the following questions before you visit your doctor.

  • Where is your pain?
  • Does it stay in the same place?
  • What sort of pain is it?
  • How long does it last for?
  • When did your back pain start?
  • What were you doing when it started?
  • Have you had any back problems in the past?
  • Do you have any other symptoms elsewhere in your body?
  • Does your back pain restrict your movement?

To understand how severe pain is, doctors sometimes use a scale of zero (none) to ten (severe) or may ask you to classify the pain as mild, moderate, severe or excruciating. It may also help to use a visual analogue scale to try to quantify how bad your pain is. 

These scales are usually 10 cm horizontal or vertical lines with word anchor at each end, such as no pain and severe pain. By marking the line where you think your pain lies, you are giving your physio a better idea of its intensity.

For children, drawing of faces in a series-from smiling to frowning and crying-can be used to determine the severity of pain.

Your PHYSIO may also examine you, and will also refer back to your medical history to work out if there are any other health conditions that might be contributing to your pain. They may also:

  • Perform a pinprick test to check that your sense of touch is working properly
  • Test the strength of your muscles by asking you to push against their hands
  • Test the reflexes in your knees and ankles by gently tapping just below your kneecaps and above your heels with a special hammer
  • Perform the “straight leg test” in which you lie on your back and raise your leg without bending your knee.