When a back ache persists, it may be the result of something structural, like osteoarthritis of the facet joints, or it could be a simple symptom of a disease. Either way, you should seek medical advice if the symptoms do not subside within a few weeks or a few months. However, if the pain is severe or lasts for more than a year, you should schedule a consultation with a doctor.
A physician may order an MRI to obtain detailed images of the bony structures of the spine. If the pain is persistent or persists after three weeks, the doctor may recommend a CT scan. A CT scan provides clear images of the soft tissues, and is generally necessary to diagnose a herniated disc or spinal stenosis. It can also be recommended if the patient has a history of cancer or if a bulging disc is suspected.
A physician will first conduct a physical examination to determine the location of the pain and if it is related to the nerves or muscles. Your doctor may perform tests to evaluate range of motion and your response to different sensations. If the pain is affecting your ability to perform certain activities, he or she will likely ask you about your medical history and the condition. In some cases, the doctor may recommend a steroid injection, or prescribe another medication.