Something more descriptive than "Oww."
December 10, 2009 4:04 PM   Subscribe

How can I improve my description of my back pain to best inform my doctor?

Sometimes, when I stretch a certain way, a particular part of my back hurts somethin' awful. YANMD; I plan to ask about this at my next physical.

What I am looking for is: Given that I can't always replicate this on command (why would I want to?), what questions can I ask myself that will help me inform my doctor and thereby help him narrow down the list of possible causes (and thereby hopefully reduce the number of expensive tests necessary to diagnose me)? Is there a lexicon for back pain?
posted by citywolf to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Where, exactly, is the pain? Is it always in the same place? Does it happen only when you stretch? Does the pain stop immediately when you stop stretching, or does it linger? Is it a sharp or dull pain? Does it feel as if something is tearing or torn, or does it feel bruised or sprained? Is the area swollen? Is there something to which you can compare the pain? On a scale of 1-10, how intense is the pain?
posted by runningwithscissors at 4:11 PM on December 10, 2009

Where on your back? Neck? Upper back? Middle back? Lower back? Real low, like below your waist? Does it feel muscular or osteal? Even if you can't replicate it, a description of what you're doing when you feel it will be nearly as helpful. When you feel it, does it go away immediately after you stop stretching or doing whatever you feel causes it? Or is it like the stretching/motion is flipping a switch and it hurts for a long time, until it just goes away?

Your doctor will ask you many similar questions, as well as others.
posted by jckll at 4:12 PM on December 10, 2009

With a Sharpie, circle the part that hurts. Go to doctor, point vigorously.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:12 PM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you really want to do a good job of describing this, learn how to replicate it. Barring that, the next time it happens on its own, press your fingers into your muscles and trace the delineations between muscles to identify where the pain starts and ends -- ideally while looking at a diagram of the bones and muscles in that portion of your back, so that you can say "oh, the pain is definitely in the upper back, left side right against the spine, about six inches down from the clavicle." If it's hard to define the location, using a sharpie is actually a good idea; mark it, then refresh the mark every few days as it starts to wash off until your doctor visit.
posted by davejay at 4:22 PM on December 10, 2009

Pointing vigorously may not really help as back pain is very often referred away from the actual location of the injury. My suggestion is to get a referral to a specialist or a physical therapist who specializes in back pain diagnoses. I have had my back pain diagnosed as several different things including degenerative arthritis which I absolutely do not have. A GP may have no experience dealing with your issue. (Obviously this depends a lot of the doctor. I have had bad diagnoses from GPs on my back pain and much better help from a PT).
posted by GuyZero at 4:31 PM on December 10, 2009

I have the same problem. Try to think about what kind of pain it is and what direction it goes in too. Is it sharp or dull? Does it shoot down or up?
posted by idb at 4:31 PM on December 10, 2009

This is what your doctor will probably want to know:


posted by 517 at 4:39 PM on December 10, 2009

Ever seen a dermatome chart? If not, go to:

The dermatome chart shows the distribution of nerves off the spine and indicates where one might feel discomfort along one's body. For example, about 10 years ago I ruptured the L5-S1 disk. Not much pain -- I just couldn't walk after that.

At any rate, looking at the chart I was able to see where the problem was and the MRI further confirmed it. I had surgery, feel great, etc., etc. The chart shows that the area of discomfort with the herniation I had is from the back of the waist and travels around the tops of the thighs and then down to the inside of the legs. With herniation the discomfort may not go all the to the toes, or it may do so some of the time, etc.

Anyway, take a look at it. I found the chart very interesting.


posted by Kalepa at 7:52 PM on December 10, 2009

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