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Common back and spine injuries and conditions

Diagnosis of common back and spine injuries and conditions

Diagnostic tests used to evaluate potential spine conditions and injuries depend on the type of injury and your specific symptoms.

Some of the most common diagnostic tests for spinal injuries include:

  • A thorough review of your history in which your doctor will discuss your symptoms, family history, any previous diagnoses, and any injuries that may have led to your symptoms
  • Physical examination of the spine and neck to check for range of motion and any signs of deformity or trauma such as swelling or bruising
  • Laboratory tests to look for signs of metabolic or other conditions in your blood
  • Nerve conduction tests to look for signs of nerve damage or pinched nerves
  • Electromyography to detect nerve disorders in your muscles
  • CT scans, MRIs, and x-rays to look for injuries to your spine or soft tissues in your back and neck

Dignity Health offers expert, comprehensive care for many spinal injuries.


Treatment and prevention options differ for each spine condition or injury. Your treatment will also depend on your medical history and risk factors.

Many spine conditions and injuries get better with conservative treatments such as rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medicines. For minor injuries, gentle stretching through yoga or similar low-impact activities can help relieve symptoms. Over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen may also help relieve temporary pain due to minor back injuries.

For conditions such as chronic back pain caused by slipped discs, osteoarthritis, or other conditions, treatments such as corticosteroid shots to reduce pain and inflammation, back braces, or surgery to fix ruptured discs or immobilize parts of the spine, are necessary.

If you have experienced a traumatic injury such as a motor vehicle accident or fall, the first priority of treatment is to keep the injury from putting any pressure on or damaging your spinal cord. Your doctor may use traction to stabilize the spine.

After you complete initial intake and treatment for a spine injury or condition, treatment often focuses primarily on rehabilitation. Using assistive devices, occupational therapy, and physical therapy can all help manage active symptoms, regain any loss function, and prevent future problems.

When to seek emergency care for symptoms of a spinal condition

Spinal cord injuries and illnesses are very uncommon. Many conditions involving the spine are mild, and most cases of back pain are the result of muscle strains and other relatively benign conditions that resolve on their own with rest and other at-home, over-the-counter treatment approaches.

However, back pain can, in rare cases, be the result of a more severe or even life-threatening condition. The following situations require immediate, emergency medical attention:

  • Loss of bladder or bowel control (incontinence)
  • Difficulty standing or walking; loss of coordination or balance
  • Sudden numbness in the groin, pelvis, or lower abdomen (also called “saddle” numbness)
  • Drooping or weakness on one side of the face or body
  • Severe pain in the back, neck, or head, especially if this occurs with a high fever (this can indicate meningitis or another serious infection)
  • Sudden, severely painful headache
  • Back pain that follows an injury such as a fall or car crash or associated with visible signs of injury such as bruising or deformity
  • Back pain that is coupled with chest tightness or pain, shortness of breath, or other potential symptoms of a heart attack

You should also contact your doctor for further evaluation if you notice symptoms such as:

  • Tingling or numbness in your extremities
  • Pain that extends down both your legs
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Pain that gets worse over time or does not diminish with a few days of at-home rest
  • Your symptoms significantly interfere with your daily activities

Dignity Health provides expert and comprehensive care for patients with spine conditions and injuries. Find a Doctor to learn more about how our specialists can help you or your loved one.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.