What is the Test for Back Nerve Pain?

There are many potential causes of back pain, nerve-related back pain known as radiculopathy is one of the most serious types. If you have symptoms of radiating pain, numbness, tingling or weakness in your back, legs or arms, you may be experiencing nerve pain originating from your spine. Your doctor can perform several tests to determine if a pinched or compressed nerve is the cause of your back pain.

One of the first things a doctor will do is take a full medical history and ask about your specific symptoms. They will want to know details about the onset, location, severity, duration, and frequency of the pain. Any associated numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, or changes in bowel or bladder function are also important to report. Your doctor will likely perform a physical exam testing muscle strength, reflexes, and sensation in your arms and legs. They may check areas like the back of your knees where there are common nerve branches.

If your doctor suspects you have nerve-related back pain from a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or other issue compressing a nerve root, they may order imaging tests. An MRI scan can provide a view of the discs, nerves and soft tissues in the spine to look for any abnormalities or impingement. A CT scan is another option that can reveal bone spurs or other bony overgrowth putting pressure on nerves. Diagnostic injections may also be used to deliver numbing medication to specific nerve roots. If this provides temporary pain relief, it indicates those nerves are involved.

Your doctor may also refer you to a neurologist for specialized neurological testing of nerve function. Two common tests are the electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction study (NCS). The EMG evaluates the electrical activity of muscles by inserting a needle electrode into various areas. Unusual results can confirm nerve damage. The NCS stimulates specific nerve roots with small electrical currents and measures the speed of response. Slowed conduction velocities indicate compressed nerves. These studies allow doctors to confirm which nerve roots are being impacted to direct appropriate treatment.

Determining if nerve compression is causing radiating back pain is crucial for effective management. While musculoskeletal issues like muscle strain may be treated with rest and physical therapy, neurological compression often requires interventions like steroid injections or surgery to relieve pressure on the affected nerves. Diagnostic testing gives doctors the information they need to provide the right therapies for nerve-related back pain conditions. If you have symptoms like pain, numbness or weakness extending from your back down your limbs, talk to your doctor about having your nervous system evaluated to uncover the source of your discomfort.