Diagnosing Lower Back Pain & Other Symptoms

The lower back is involved in upper body support, spinal protection, and movement so pain in this region can be debilitating and remove you from the activities that you love with symptoms such as back spasms, lower back pain, or limited range of motion . Lower back symptoms can have several causes including lumbar spine abnormalities such as a herniated disc, sciatica, or spinal stenosis; tissue abnormalities such as strained muscles or ligaments; and other health issues such as arthritis or kidney stones. Below we’ll go through the lower back diagnosis process and touch briefly on treatment.

Lower Back Diagnosis

Your doctor will start diagnosis with a patient history, meaning that they will ask you about current symptoms, daily activities, and recent injuries. This may include questions such as whether you’re involved in certain sports, whether your occupation involves long periods at a desk or heavy lifting, and if your mattress may be affecting your sleep. He or she will then perform a physical exam which includes pressing on your back to locate sensitive areas, a neurologic test, and a reflex test. The doctor can often diagnose your lower back symptoms from just the history and the physical exam.

In some cases, your doctor may need a better look at your lower back and will order an imaging test. X-ray scans show bones, helping your doctor rule out fractures, arthritis, etc. A CT scan or an MRI will give them a better look at your spine and soft tissues (e.g. muscles, ligaments, intervertebral discs) respectively. This allows them to rule out herniated discs, spinal stenosis, muscle strains, and more. By using imaging scans, your doctor can identify the cause of your lower back symptoms and the specific location of the cause without having to open your back surgically.
After diagnosis, your doctor will work with you to develop a treatment plan that is in accordance with your heath goals.

Lower Back Treatment

They will likely start with conservative treatment options such as a chiropractor, physical therapy, or epidural injections. If you have already tried these methods or find that they do not reduce your symptoms, talk to your doctor about surgical options such as minimally invasive endoscopic spine surgery. We also offer a FREE MRI review for people who have already had an MRI and want to connect with a spine doctor to discuss treatment options.


Diagnosis is an important step in treating lower back symptoms, such as pain or muscles spasms, because there are several potential causes and treatment will depend on the cause. To learn more about potential causes, visit our spine conditions or orthopedic injuries pages.