Taking your back pain personally!

We are all different. Not just our faces and fingerprints but also our brains, immune system, etc. The list goes on and on.

So, of course, our illnesses and response to injury is going to be individualized. Hippocrates cautions: It is far more important to know what person the disease has than what disease the person has! 

Your back pain is also unique to you. That is not to say similarities with other sufferers is not likely. You don't have your next-door neighbor back disorder. Even your own personal psychological makeup may be important.   if you ever hear a medical practitioner use the term “nonspecific back pain”, it’s time to run. 

If your back pain is interfering with your comfort or activities,  you in a need to see your doctor. We need to know that your particular discomfort in your back is not related to an unexpected medical problem such as inflammatory arthritis, infection or even malignancy. Rest assured these conditions are not that common, but absolutely must recognize.

After that, the real challenge begins. Who do I go see for my back pain?  Do I need a specialist? If so, which one? Many healthcare practitioners profess expertise in low back disorders. Believe it or not, it is not so much about the specialty. It might be a neurologist a physiatrist, a chiropractor, etc. One of the most knowledgeable and accomplished experts in this field is the Canadian exercise physiologist, Stuart McGill, the author of Back Mechanic. This book will always be a good starting point. But be on your game, Dr. McGill is a harsh taskmaster. Unfortunately, that is just what you need!

Dr. McGill emphasizes the importance of a specific and accurate history of your pain. What causes it or makes it worse? Usually, it is flexion (bending forward)   What makes it better? Then you need a real physical exam. As in hands-on your body!! I cannot emphasize this enough.


MRI and another testing can be important but are really less so than the history and physical examination. Any testing must be carefully correlated with the history and physical examination or it can be misleading and delay recovery or even lead to unnecessary procedures including painful injections and surgery. Anyway, low back pain does not have a chronic disabling condition. If your low back pain is interfering with your life and maybe keeping you from doing what you absolutely must do to stay healthy, like exercising, get help!

 Good luck in your search.

Dr. David Sudderth

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