4 Reasons Why Your Back Pain is Hard to Diagnose

If you have ever visited the doctor seeking answers for the cause of your back pain, you may understand the frustration associated with receiving an incorrect diagnosis or no diagnosis at all. It is unfortunate that back pain is both extremely common and hard to diagnose. Oftentimes, it can take several appointments, possibly with multiple medical professionals and treatments, to establish an accurate diagnosis. Even the top spinal surgeons occasionally find themselves stumped from time to time. As a patient, this is probably the last thing you want to hear. However, understanding the reasons why back pain is so hard to diagnose can help you provide your doctor with more specific information that can hopefully lead to an accurate diagnosis sooner. Here are four main reasons why diagnosing back pain is so difficult: 

No Single Diagnostic Test is Accurate

woman having an MRI

While there are a variety of different diagnostic tests that may be done to determine the cause of back pain, there is no single diagnostic test that can provide an accurate diagnosis on its own. Instead back conditions are usually diagnosed as a result of multiple diagnostic tests, images, and questions. This is one of the main reasons why certain back conditions go undiagnosed or are misdiagnosed. 

Pain is Subjective

When it comes to experiencing and describing pain, everyone is different. This means that one person could describe the pain as being unbearable, while another person may describe it as a mild ache. In some cases, the description of pain could lead your doctor to believe that your condition is more or less serious than it actually is. Additionally, how you experience pain can also dictate your treatment plan. For example, individuals with a high pain tolerance may be fine on over the counter medications, while those with a lower pain tolerance may require steroid injections. 

Identifying the Specific Cause of Pain is Challenging

Unfortunately, there are many different causes of back pain and pinpointing the exact cause of your back pain may take some time. It can also be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause because there may be more than one cause contributing to your back pain. Sometimes, treatment for one spinal condition may alleviate pain caused by that condition, but do nothing for pain caused by something else entirely. Additionally, there are different types of back pain such as back pain that originates from problems with anatomical structures, neuropathic back pain, and back pain associated with depression, stress, or anxiety. 

Individual Lifestyle is a Factor

man slouching while using a laptop

Not only is it difficult to diagnose the exact cause of your back pain, but your individual lifestyle could also play a role in what is causing your pain, as well as what may be preventing you from feeling better. Even with an accurate diagnosis and the best treatment plan, certain lifestyle factors can hinder progress and cause your back pain to linger. Lifestyle factors that have been associated with contributing to back pain include: a lack of daily physical activity, smoking, drinking large amounts of alcohol, eating inflammatory foods, excess stress or anxiety, and not sleeping enough. 

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