This interactive tool will not diagnose a back problem, but it will tell
you whether surgery might help reduce or get rid of symptoms related to your
low back problem.
Although research shows that surgery is very likely to be effective for some
problems, it rarely helps with others.
This tool is not
meant for people in emergency situations. Talk to your doctor
right away if you have numbness, weakness, or other symptoms that are very bad or getting worse. For more information, see the Check Your Symptoms section of the topic Back Problems and Injuries.
Carragee EJ, Hannibal M (2004). Diagnostic evaluation of low back pain. Orthopedic Clinics of North America, 35(2004): 7-16.
Tay BKB, et al. (2014). Disorders, diseases, and injuries of the spine. In HB Skinner, PJ McMahon, eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment in Orthopedics, 5th ed., pp. 156-229. New York: McGraw-Hill.
What do the results tell you?
Symptoms of low back problems, such as back pain and pain down the back of the
leg, usually go away by themselves within several weeks. Most people with back pain do not need to see the doctor unless they have severe pain or their symptoms are not getting better after about 4 weeks. And they do not start having
any tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), unless they have had
symptoms for at least 6 weeks or they have had other “red flags” such as signs of nerve damage. Surgery is not considered until after that.
you work through this tool, you will get an idea of whether surgery might help
If you are concerned about back pain
or other related symptoms such as leg pain, numbness, or weakness, talk to your
doctor about what steps you can take. If surgery is unlikely to help, you can
still take action to reduce and control your symptoms.