Musculoskeletal conditions drive millions of patients to doctor’s offices each year, with back and hip pain being among the most common. Because the hip and low back neighbor one another in the body, these conditions often overlap, with only one of the two being diagnosed. This can lead to inadequate treatment, unnecessary costs, and unsatisfying outcomes for the patient with prolonged pain, disability, and mental health distress.
In some cases, a problem elsewhere in the body can refer pain to another region. For example, dysfunction in the upper neck could result in symptoms in the wrist and hand that could appear to be carpal tunnel syndrome. Or an issue in one area, like the foot, can change a patient’s gait and lead to a problem with the knee. It’s possible that the patient may only seek care for their knee pain, as their foot may not have obvious symptoms for concern. With the hip and low back, both scenarios can occur, which is why it’s important to focus on the whole patient and not just the area of chief complaint.
That’s why doctors of chiropractic consider the whole patient when they present for conditions like hip pain or back pain, starting with a thorough patient history. This includes asking the right questions, in which we frequently use the acronym LMNOPQRST, which stands for: Location, Medical History (or Mechanism of injury), New, Other Symptoms (or, Onset), Provoking/Palliative, Quality, Radiation, Severity, and Timing. These questions MUST be asked for each complaint.
The remaining history of Past, Family, and Social histories and, a Review of Systems allows the doctor of chiropractic to consider other potentially important aspects of the patient’s past such as prior injuries, accidents, surgeries, current medications, genetics, social aspects (smoking, drinking, exercise habits, sleep quality) and more, which can give clues to the current presenting complaints. The use of pain diagrams and questionnaires helps quantify the amount of suffering and serve as good outcome tools to determine treatment success.
The examination includes observing the patient walk and move (with or without distress), their posture, and their affect (is their condition all-consuming); palpating or feeling for painful structures and performing movements that both increase and relieve their pain; measuring patient’s range of motion; determining what position is favored or “best” vs. “worst”; and nerve function tests to look for impairments with regards to sensation, strength, and reflexes.
Each part of the examination is considered in order to arrive at the correct diagnoses so that treatment can accurately focus on healing and improving the function of the ailing parts.