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Lt Col Jerman
In most cases, acute low back pain resolves on its own within a few days, and most people never feel the need to see their provider about it. Dr. Patel, can you tell us how acute low back pain is diagnosed when people do decide to visit their provider?

Dr. Patel
Definitely, Dr. Jerman. Providers will usually start by taking a focused medical history, followed by a thorough physical exam to determine the likelihood of an underlying condition that could be causing the back pain.

Imaging tests like MRIs, CT scans, and x-rays are rarely used to diagnose acute lower back pain. In fact, evidence shows that these tests are not in the best interest of the patient, unless the provider suspects that the pain is caused by a serious underlying condition.

In most cases, the provider can simply use the information from the history and physical exam to recommend the right treatment. Providers will usually offer information about self-care options to manage the pain. Those options can include things like remaining active, applying ice or heat to the painful area, or taking specific over-the-counter medications.

Although acute low back pain typically resolves on its own, there is growing evidence that receiving physical therapy intervention can be a valuable tool, even for patients with low back pain lasting less than 18 days.