How is low back pain diagnosed?

images-3Suffering with back pain and don’t know what is wrong, what to do, who to see or what will help?

First of all, it is important to clear up some myths about low back pain.  It is good to know that most causes of low back pain will resolve and very few causes are medically concerning.

A qualified health professional, such as an Osteopath, has extensive training in identifying serious causes of low back pain and providing an appropriate referral for diagnostic testing, if required.

An osteopath has 5 ways to help diagnose the cause of pain, which is the first step to in order to assist you in resolving your issue.

    Discussing the details of your current complaint are an important first step in formulating a diagnosis.  Your clinician will want to know how long you have had your issue, what the discomfort feels like, if it is stopping you doing every day tasks, if specific activities make it better or worse, the severity of pain and if you have any other symptoms that may relate to your presentation.
    Your previous history of similar injuries or other chronic or serious health issues are important to help understand your current health status and the likelihood of serious cause of pain.
    Information regarding your work history, exercise and other lifestyle factors such as smoking, weight and age all all relevant to your back pain.  Want to know more, click here.
    The Osteopath will assess your whole body to identify postural patterns, weight distribution and other contributing factors to your current complaint.  You may be asked to perform basic movements, in order to ascertain your ability to move will be important.  Specific aggravation tests may or may not be performed depending on your presentation.  Other assessments, such as body temperature, waist circumference, neurological and cardiovascular examinations may be performed on a case by case basis.
    Only in complex or specific cases will you be referred for further testing.  This decision is always made on an individual basis and is at the discretion of the health professional.  There are specific imaging guidelines that all health professionals in Australia are required to adhere to, including your Osteopath.  This is in part due to limiting the overuse of imaging when it is not required.  There are some risks associated with unnecessary investigation.  It is also important for Medicare funded services to be readily available for the people who really need it.

In many instances, your practitioner will be able to determine a cause of pain and formulate a diagnosis and management plan without further investigation.  In some cases, you may either be referred to another health care professional or in the case of suspected medical emergency, you will be directed to hospital. The following tests may be required in some instances.


  1.  X-ray
    Used to diagnose broken bones or other vertebral issues, involves radiation exposure.
  2. Computerised Topography (CT scan)
    More detailed scan, can identify some soft tissue, spinal cord and bone pathologies unable to be seen on x-ray, involving much higher levels of radiation than conventional x-ray.
  3. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
    Detailed imaging scan using magnetic force rather than radiation.  Significantly more expensive and less commonly available.  Is a non-invasive way to identify cases requiring surgical intervention.
  4. Ultrasound
    Also known as sonography, using high frequency sound waves to display a real time image.  May be used to identify muscle and ligament tears or other soft tissue injury.
  5. Bone Scan
    Used to detect or monitor bone density, infection and other disorders within bone.
  6. Myelogram
    Enhanced imaging in comparison to x-ray and CT scan using contrast dye to provide more information.
  7. Nerve conduction tests
    May be used in cases of nerve compression to determine level of function.
  8. Blood tests
    Rarely used in cases of low back pain, however may be used to measure inflammation markers, identify some types of arthritis and infection.

Want to know more about how we can help you reduce or eliminate your low back pain, more information available.

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