Chronic pain diagnosis

Chronic pain is defined as steady pain that lasts longer than three months. Some medical professionals consider the time threshold to be six months, but the most significant characteristic of chronic pain is not how long it lasts but whether it seems to be healing naturally. If the pain level continually increases over the course of several months, you should consult your physician to determine the cause of your chronic pain and the applicable treatment options.

Diagnosis for chronic pain typically begins with a physical examination and a series of questions asked by a general practitioner. Depending on the initial diagnosis, you may be referred to a pain specialist or a physician trained to deal with disorders of the part of the body believed to be responsible for producing the chronic pain.

Diagnostic tools to determine the cause of chronic pain

In addition to the standard set of questions — location of the pain, recent injury history, family medical history, etc. — a general practitioner may decide to order one or more of the following tests in order to gain a more precise chronic pain diagnosis:

  • MRI — Magnetic resonance imaging produces clear pictures of the interior of the body without the use of X-rays.
  • CT scan — Computed tomography uses computers and X-rays to produce an image of a cross section of the body.
  • Discography — A contrast dye is injected into a disc that is believed to be causing neck or back pain. The dye distinguishes damaged areas from healthy areas of the disc, which can be seen on an X-ray.
  • Myelogram — Similar to a discography, contrast dye is used to detect damaged tissue within other portions of the spine in addition to the discs.
  • Bone scan — Radioactive material is injected into the body and collects in the bones, especially in areas affected by an abnormality.
  • EMG — In electromyography, muscle activity is monitored by very fine needles that measure response to brain signals.

Treatment for chronic pain

Treatment of chronic pain depends on the diagnosis, but in general, over-the-counter or prescription medication is almost always indicated. In many cases, physical therapy, exercise and other conservative treatment methods can also be effective for chronic pain management.

Should your chronic pain arise from a degenerative spine disorder, contact Laser Spine Institute to determine whether a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure performed using advanced techniques may help you find relief from neck or back pain.