Preparing for your appointment

By Mayo Clinic Staff

If you have back pain that's lasted for at least a few days and isn't improving, make an appointment with your family doctor or primary care provider.

Here's some information to help you prepare for your appointment and what to expect from your doctor.

What you can do

  • Write down key personal information, including any mental or emotional stressors in your life.
  • Make a list of your key medical information, including any other conditions for which you're being treated and the names of any medications, vitamins or supplements you're taking.
  • Note any recent injuries that may have damaged your back.
  • Take a family member or friend along, if possible. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot.
  • Write down questions to ask your doctor. Creating your list of questions in advance can help you make the most of your time with your doctor.

For back pain, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:

  • What is the most likely cause of my back pain?
  • Do I need any diagnostic tests?
  • What treatment approach do you recommend?
  • If you're recommending medications, what are the possible side effects?
  • I have other medical conditions. How can I best manage these conditions together?
  • How long will I need treatment?
  • What self-care measures should I be taking?
  • Is there anything else I can do to help prevent a recurrence of back pain?

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may reserve time to go over any points you want to spend more time on. Your doctor may ask:

  • When did you first begin having back pain?
  • How often do you have back pain?
  • How much is your pain limiting your ability to function?
  • Do you have any other signs or symptoms in addition to back pain?
  • Do you do heavy physical work?
  • Do you exercise regularly? If yes, with what types of activities?
  • How often do you feel blue or depressed?
  • How much stress or conflict do you experience on a daily basis?
  • Do you sleep well most of the time?
  • What treatments or self-care measures have you tried so far? Has anything helped?
  • Are you currently being treated or have you recently been treated for any other medical conditions?

What you can do in the meantime

While you're waiting for your appointment, you may benefit from applying heat, such as with a heating pad or hot bath, for short periods of time to improve blood flow to the area and relax the muscles. Be careful not to sleep with a heating pad on, as this can cause burns. The application of cold with an ice or cold gel pack can also provide back pain relief. Choose whichever — hot or cold — gives you the most relief.

Try to keep to your normal activities as much as possible, unless your work normally requires heavy lifting. If a particular activity increases your pain, stop doing that activity.

Sept. 11, 2012

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