After completing your health history, your health-care provider will give you a thorough physical examination and review any diagnostic tests you've had in the past.
A general physical examination is appropriate for anyone with chronic pain, but the history may lead to an examination that focuses on one area. For example, if your health-care provider suspects that your pain is caused by nerve damage (neuropathy), a careful neurologic examination (including tests to evaluate muscle strength, reflexes and sensation) may be best, whereas careful joint examination is more important if your pain is thought to be caused by arthritis.
If you haven't had any diagnostic tests before, your health-care provider may order specific tests such as X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT), nerve function tests or blood tests. The tests that your doctor orders will depend on your type of pain:
These tests can also rule out some diagnoses. For instance, if your health-care provider suspects that a tumor may be the cause of your chronic headaches, he or she may order an MRI. If the test shows no tumor, your health-care provider needs to explore other possible causes for your pain.
Sometimes, a health-care provider will repeat a test, particularly if your pain has changed in some way. In other cases, a health-care provider won't order any tests because earlier exams already answered the key questions, and further testing is unlikely to turn up anything new.