If pain is the body's way of telling you something is wrong, it follows that your doctor's job is interpreting that message to find the source of the problem. But with back pain this isn't always easy. Finding the cause of the pain is difficult, and most doctors will advise you to self-manage the pain to see if it subsides before spending too much time on finding an exact cause. After all, most incidents of back pain—even the most excruciating—are short-lived and heal on their own.

However, if you experience any of the more severe warning signs or if your pain has not subsided even after practicing the recommended management techniques, it may be time for your doctor to conduct a full physical examination to determine the cause of your pain. Depending on your symptoms and medical history, there are several tests that might be used to better understand your pain. These include X-rays, CT and MRI scans, and electromyograms (EMGs).

Talking to your doctor about the nature of the pain is a critical step in the diagnostic and treatment processes. Be an informed patient by asking your doctor these important questions:

1. Cause of Pain

Do you think you know the cause of my back pain? Is it possible to find the exact cause?

2. Tests for Back Pain

What kind of tests will you use to find the cause of my back pain? How accurate are the tests?

3. Red Flags

Are there any red flags I should watch for that could indicate a more serious condition? What are the symptoms of these conditions?

4. Living With Back Pain

What type of self-management techniques can I use to alleviate some of my back pain? How much physical activity can I handle?

5. Treatment Options

What are some medical options for treating back pain? At what point would you recommend prescription drugs, alternative therapies, or surgery?