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Because different types of back pain are treated in different ways, your doctor will want to know when your pain started, how severe it is and how it affects your daily life.


Your doctor will need to know how and when your pain first started, so think about this before your first appointment:

  • Can you remember exactly when you first noticed your pain, or did it creep up on you, getting worse gradually over time?
  • Do you remember any specific problem or event that may have started your pain? If so, when was it?
  • Do some activities trigger your pain – for example, exercise?
  • Has your pain improved over time, or is it getting worse?


Pain is hard to describe because it happens in so many different ways. From a burn, to a pinch, to a strain – pinpointing your back pain isn’t that easy. But it’s important that you describe your pain as best as you can, so don’t pretend that your pain is better or worse than it actually is. Do your best to be clear and accurate with your descriptions.

Before you go to your doctor, think about how you might answer the following questions:

  • Can you identify a specific area of your back where you experience your pain?
  • Does your pain move or spread out from one part of your body, or do you feel the pain everywhere?
  • Does the intensity of the pain get better or worse with certain activities?
  • Does the pattern of your pain always stay the same or do you feel pain in different parts of your body?
  • How would you describe the sensation of the pain?
    The kind of words that people use to describe pain include sharp, dull, aching, throbbing, stabbing, shooting or tingling – which of these best match the pain you experience?


Living with back pain can also cause problems with day-to-day life. It’s important that your doctor understands how your pain is affecting you, your ability to work or carry out daily tasks, and also how it affects your family life. They may ask you the following questions:

  • Are there any everyday activities that your pain stops you from doing?
  • What effect does gentle exercise, or going to the gym, have on your pain?
  • Does your pain make it difficult to get to sleep at night, or do you wake up because of it?
  • Is the pain relieved on sitting or lying down?
  • Has your pain affected your appetite?
  • What things make the pain better or worse?
  • Have you been taking painkillers? It’s important to let your doctor know what types of medication you have been taking and how often

If you have had back pain for more than 3 months, check the symptoms of your back pain here. The results can help you and your doctor understand if your back pain could be inflammatory.