How is chronic pain diagnosed?

There is no way to objectively measure pain. Only the person with chronic pain can provide a description of how much pain he or she is feeling. The doctor will ask where the pain is located, how long it has been going on, and whether it is sharp or dull, constant, or occurs off and on. Sometimes a patient will be asked to rate how bad the pain is by using a numerical scale and giving more details. The doctor will do a physical exam and may order additional diagnostic tests, including:

Laboratory tests to analyze blood, urine, and/or fluid from the spinal cord and brain.

Musculoskeletal or neurological exams to assess reflexes, sensation, balance, and coordination.

Imaging tests

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to obtain scans of the brain, spinal cord, and other structures.
  • X-rays to obtain images of the bones, joints, and other structures.

Electrodiagnostic procedures

  • Electromyography to test muscle activity.
  • Nerve conduction studies to record how well nerves are working.

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