How to Describe Back Pain

What you consider excruciating lower back pain may be described by someone else with the same issue as a mild discomfort. Since back and neck pain can be highly subjective in terms of how someone describes their level of pain, it’s important to clearly articulate what you’re experiencing to your doctor so that they can come up with a treatment plan that’s more likely to produce positive results.

Establishing a Basis for Your Pain

Most board-certified physicians in Los Angeles tend to use a rating of 1-10 to determine the severity of a patient’s back or neck pain. The problem is the lack of a clear frame reference. Instead, consider using a specific scale you and your doctor agree on to describe your pain in a way that you both can understand. Example: On a scale of 1-10, 1-3 is mild and anything from 7 and up is severe.

Using the LOCATES Pain Scale

The American Pain Foundation recommends patients use the LOCATES scale (detailed below) to more accurately describe pain. It’s a system that seeks a more accurate description of pain that doctors can use to better determine where to focus diagnosis and treatment efforts.

• L (location) – Where is the pain felt? Does it travel to other parts of the body? (radiating pain is common with back and neck discomfort)

• O (other associated symptoms) – Are you experiencing related symptoms? (weakness and fatigue are often associated with sciatica)

• C (character of pain) – Is the pain sharp, dull, or throbbing?

• A (aggravating and alleviating factors) – What seems to make the pain worse? When does the pain seem to lessen or go away?

• T (timing and pain) – How long does the pain last? Is it sporadic (occurring infrequently) or chronic (persistent or always present on some level)?

• E (environment) – Where or when does the pain usually occur? (at home, at work, while driving, when sitting)

• S (severity of the pain) – How would you rate the pain? (either on a scale system or as “mild,” “moderate” or “severe”)

Tell your doctor about any non-pain symptoms like muscle stiffness. Anything possibly related to your pain, even if you think it’s not all that important, can help with diagnosis and treatment.

If all conservative treatment methods have been exhausted and you’re still experiencing back or neck pain, it might be time to consider spine surgery in Los Angeles. To learn more or request an in-person consultation, reach out to The Spine Institute Center at (310) 828-7757.