How Back Pain Can Be Misdiagnosed

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How Back Pain Can Be Misdiagnosed

When you seek treatment for chronic back pain, the first thing you want to know is what’s wrong with your body, and ultimately, what you can do to fix it. However, you’d be surprised how often errors arise from the diagnosis stage. In fact, a study conducted by John Hopkins Hospital researchers found that around 40 to 80% of chronic pain patients are misdiagnosed.

Misdiagnoses initiate a domino effect of unsuitable treatments for body pain. What’s worse is that it can lead to further medical complications, leaving the root cause of pain and discomfort undetected and remaining in your body.

So why are the causes of chronic pain commonly misidentified and why does it happen as often as 40 to 80% of the time?

What causes a misdiagnosis of back pain?

There are several reasons chronic pain can be misidentified. 

Sometimes, patients leave out details of their symptoms they might think are insignificant to their pain. For instance, patients might not think that getting chills is relevant to their spinal pain. Without complete details, the doctor might give a diagnosis that doesn’t target the root cause of pain.

Other times, doctors may diagnose a problem too narrowly without considering other factors that might have contributed to that condition. This approach allows doctors to point to the effect, but not necessarily the cause of pain.

Related: Why Do I Have Chronic Pain

An example of this is if a patient is diagnosed with disc herniation, but the doctor isn’t able to identify the cause of why they’re experiencing it in the first place. In this scenario, the problem is that a diagnosis was made too quickly  and other relevant factors like patient history and lifestyle habits are not taken into account. 

Pain is also very subjective, meaning only those who experience it can be able to tell how much their body hurts, and these levels can vary from person to person.

Why back pain is hard to diagnose

The cause of back pain is typically hard to pinpoint because many underlying factors are at play. Many people who seek back pain relief typically don’t receive one single answer for their problem. Before diving into the cause of pain, let’s examine your spine’s anatomy to determine where pain comes from.

Our spines are made up of discs stacked on top of each other. Nerves run through these discs. You feel pain whenever there’s a misalignment or a “slipped disc”, meaning the discs are pressing on each other or on the nerves.

Since the nerves running through our spine are attached to our entire body, misalignments can cause more than just pain. It can lead to more serious problems like digestive issues, heart conditions, asthma or sinus problems, and even pregnancy issues.

Sometimes when patients visit doctors to get a diagnosis for their back pain, they might not always consider mentioning other health conditions such as arthritis, scoliosis, or endometriosis when talking about their back pain.

Related: 5 Back Pain Exercises That Give You Instant Relief

There’s also typically no single diagnostic test that can provide an accurate diagnosis for back pain. Instead, doctors advise patients to undergo a series of tests, which is partly the reason why patients might get different prognoses from multiple doctors.

Back pain doesn’t simply occur for people who work 9-to-5 desk jobs. Anyone can experience back pain, including those who lead very active lifestyles. This can be caused by highly intensive exercises like Cross Fit or by lifting heavy weights which can cause the muscles to strain.

What’s more, different causes of pain can overlap, making the process of finding the cause of back pain even trickier. Because of several diagnoses from several experts, people with back pain will typically be prescribed pain medication for relief.

While it’s the most common treatment for back pain, medication can only provide temporary relief. Why should you reconsider taking pain medication?

Why painkillers don’t give back pain relief

Our bodies are naturally equipped to heal themselves. And when we feel pain, we know there’s something wrong and that it needs to be fixed.

You might immediately think of turning to painkillers in your medicine cabinet as soon as pain arises. Most painkillers can only provide temporary relief for most types of pain. What not many people know is that this type of medication might also be too invasive or unnecessary. 

What you need to be doing is seeking ways to elicit your body’s natural ability to heal itself. But of course, you can’t do this without a proper understanding of where the discomfort comes from.

How should back pain be diagnosed

If you’ve gone to multiple doctors for pain relief but the pain keeps reoccurring, the prescribed treatment might not be the appropriate solution. That’s because you can’t fix what you can’t pinpoint. If your doctor is unable to determine the root cause of the pain, you might end up chasing a solution that isn’t even right for your body.

This is where a funneled diagnosis comes in. A funneled diagnosis involves considering all factors like patient health history and other conditions before your physician recommends a treatment plan best suited for your condition.

Because back pain and other chronic illnesses are subjective and have no single diagnostic test to determine its root causes, it’s wise to consider many different factors altogether and conduct a comprehensive analysis before prescribing a treatment plan for pain relief.

Among the different comprehensive analyses for treatment planning is the Gonstead technique. But what is this chiropractic technique all about? 

How Gonstead chiropractors provide back pain relief

Chiropractic doctors focus on the structure of the body, particularly the spine. Since the nerves around the spine are connected to the different parts of the body (including our lungs, limbs, and organs), back pain may signal other illnesses in the body including but not limited to: 

  • Heart conditions
  • Asthma or sinus problems
  • Digestion issues
  • Pregnancy problems

Gonstead chiropractic focuses on more on the whole patient, searching for the source of discomfort. Gonstead considers different factors, examining spinal misalignments, nerve dysfunction, foundational imbalance, and motion disturbances.

From there, Gonstead doctors will determine the necessary adjustments to restore your natural spinal alignment, releasing the pressure and interference on the nerves, and thereby helping your body heal naturally without the use of invasive procedures.

As part of our approach, Intero Chiropractic doctors conduct x-rays and extensive diagnostics to make sure you get a proper funneled diagnosis before diving into a custom treatment plan. Afterwards, the doctors will analyze your scans and health history to create a custom care plan with specific adjustments.

Related: 9 Reason Your Chiropractor Should Take Full-Spine X-Rays 

Our specific adjustments allow for proper spinal alignment so your organs, cells, and tissues heal with proper nerve flow. 

Sometimes doctors will identify more underlying conditions you didn’t think were related to just back pain. To treat multiple conditions, our doctors will use different tools in the right order, specifying which conditions to help treat in order of priority. Our doctors will fix one focus area before moving to the next problem, creating a systematic way of healing your body.

We don’t guess with your health. Our doctors will assess your healing progress using an objective approach, measuring your:

  • Sensory Nerves (Pain)
  • Motor Nerves (Fatigue, weakness, etc.)
  • Autonomic Nerves (Energy, digestion, etc.)

Our doctors will also create a care plan that’s designed to help you maintain your healing progress while tapering down on your visits during corrective care to help your body heal on its own.


The cause of chronic back pain isn’t always easy to identify. Apart from pain being subjective, there’s no single diagnostic test to quickly pinpoint the root cause of pain.

From the get-go, you should never leave pain unattended, especially if it’s interfering with your day-to-day activities. But before you head for the painkillers in the medicine cabinet, remember that your body is able to heal itself, if only with the correct prescribed treatment. 

The only way to receive the right treatment for your pain is to be able to recognize what’s causing it. This is the first step for targeting different problem areas to achieve complete healing and not just temporary relief. Again, you can’t fix what you can’t pinpoint.

At Intero, we aim to help you gain confidence in your body again. A funneled diagnosis is part of our FREED Methodology, which is a scientific and systematic approach we’ve developed that’s helped over 3,000 patients live life on their own terms.

If you feel any chronic pain, book an appointment with Intero Chiropractic. We are more than willing to help you break free from pain. Call us at (925) 255 5805 or send an email to for more information.

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