I am having back problems. How will the doctor examine my spine?

As in other visits, your doctor will begin by asking you questions about your health history and your current symptoms. Then your doctor will physically examine you. In the case of spine problems, there are some common parts of the physical exam:

* Spine motion. How well can you twist and bend? Does it cause pain? Are you less flexible than you used to be?
* Pain. Your doctor will look for especially tender areas around your spine.
* Weakness. You will be given simple tests for muscle strength.
* Reflexes. Your doctor will test the tendon reflexes below the knee or behind the ankle.
* Sensory abilities. Your doctor will check to make sure you can detect certain sensations--such as a pin prick, heat, or cold--in parts of your feet and hands.
* Motor skills. You may be asked to walk on your heels or toes. 

Your doctor will also be on the lookout for indications of problems like tenderness in certain areas, a fever, abnormal pulse, or rapid weight loss. Your doctor may ask questions about steroid use. Any of these findings may mean you have another problem that is not directly related to a spine problem.

After the exam, your doctor may recommend further tests. The most frequently recommended tests initially are X-rays and other types of imaging tests, including MRIs and CT scans. Lab work, such as blood tests, may also be needed.