Unfortunately, neck and back pain is amongst the most common reasons for which Canadians would seek medical treatment. Some of the studies show that 66% of the population experienced neck and back pain and this goes as far back as 1998. 80% of the adults experience back pain throughout their life.
The majority of the doctors aren’t really able to determine the exact cause for the pain. It’s usually self limiting which means that in the majority of cases it’s going to resolve itself. The most common treatment includes pain medication and then the patient would be sent to go home and get back if the pain gets worse. In the majority of the situations this is an appropriate approach.
However, the problem with this particular treatment is that neck or back pain could be symptomatic of other conditions and illnesses. With this in mind, if the doctor fails to take this into consideration, this could lead to potentially serious and devastating consequences.
The importance of a differential diagnosis
With this in mind, a differential diagnosis is a procedure which aims to identify any kind of serious or potentially life threatening conditions which could be ruled out or ruled in. The physician is going to go through the list and reach a final diagnosis based on the ones that are already ruled out and ruled in. There is, however, a specific process of elimination that has to be adhered to. The doctor has to create a list of all the potential injuries and conditions that could be causing these symptoms. They are all tested until the doctor comes with a final diagnosis by eliminating those who are irrelevant. The most commonly missed diagnosis when neck and back pain is involved is the CES or cauda equina syndrome. This is a potentially debilitating condition which is capable of causing paralysis when the nerve roots are compressed within the spinal cord. This is an emergency condition which requires urgent surgery in order for the doctors to prevent permanent disability.
Of course, there are other potential causes which are also frequently missed. These include fractured vertebrae, renal disease as well as some particular forms of lymphoma as well as bone cancer. With this in mind, it’s important to note that according to the CMPA the mistakes which lead to missed diagnosis can usually be traced back to the doctor’s inability to identify particular signs and relate them to the condition.
For instance, the presence of fever is symptomatic of infections. If it’s accompanied with neck and back pain this could be a sign of different spinal infections such as a spinal epidural abscess. Another thing that has to be taken into consideration is sudden or quick loss of weight. These two symptoms in combination could be indicative of a tumor or of a lymphoma. This is the main reason for which the SMPA has warned physicians to follow up on abnormal findings such as elevated white blood cell counts.
The truth is that a misdiagnosis of neck and back pain could potentially have devastating consequences. An example is given with a patient who came in with problems of the kind and got discharged with pain medication. He returned to the department two more times, reporting an increase in the pain. He also developed a fever and the numbness spread to his legs. Approximately 48 hours afterwards the patient was diagnosed with a spinal epidural abscess that became quadriplegic later on.
Protection against such medical malpractice
The first thing that you need to take into consideration is that you shouldn’t assume anything. You should make sure that the entire situation is carefully examined and that you are given the full physical as well as neurological examination. It’s going to take no more than 5 to 10 minutes and it’s going to cover your entire body. Make sure that you also pay attention to changes in your symptoms and if there is even the slightest alteration you should consider getting medical attention right away.