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How are back problems diagnosed?

Should you need further treatment, your GP will be able to assess your back pain by discussing your symptoms with you. Most problems can be diagnosed after a simple examination, and it’s unlikely that any special tests will be needed.

What tests are there?

You may be sent for tests if you’ve had an injury to your back, if your doctor suspects that there may be an underlying cause for your pain, or if the pain has lasted for an unusually long time. In this case a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or computerised tomography (CT) scan may be needed.

Rarely, your doctor may suggest an x-ray. However, x-rays are often unhelpful for two reasons:

  1. Most back pain involves the soft tissues of the back (such as the muscles or ligaments) and these can’t be seen on an x-ray.
  2. Some changes in the bones and joints of the back are common as we age, and although these changes can be seen on an x-ray, they’re not often related to back pain. Lots of people who don’t have back pain still show these changes on x-ray.

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