Most people who see a health-care provider about back pain have two main questions: "What could be causing this?" and "What can I do to fix it?" Assessing your low back pain with a health-care provider is the first step in answering these questions. Unlike blood pressure or temperature, low back pain is difficult to accurately measure or even describe. Despite this difficulty, if your back is hurting, there's no doubt that the problem needs to be addressed.
Arriving at the best initial therapy requires some evaluation of the pain to determine its source, if possible. The evaluation also can quickly pinpoint — or rule out — any life-threatening cause. Health-care providers start with the history, the "story" of your symptoms. The history can help your health-care provider determine the cause of your low back pain.
After reviewing your history, your health-care provider will perform a physical examination and may order diagnostic tests to further evaluate your condition. However, identifying the cause of your pain is not always as helpful as it may seem.