How Telemedicine Helps Back Pain

Back pain can affect your quality of life and your ability to manage your day-to-day activities. Often, no specific cause is identified, or it can be caused by sitting in an uncomfortable position for too long—but sometimes back pain can be a sign of a serious medical issue. Diagnosis and treatment of back pain involve a variety of approaches, and telemedicine can play a role in your back pain care. Talk to your healthcare providers if you want to incorporate telemedicine or any type of online care for your back pain.

Woman holding her back
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When to Use Telehealth for Back Pain

In general, telehealth can be a part of ongoing back pain care. For example, during a telehealth visit, you can check in with your provider about changes in your pain and how well any over-the-counter or prescription medication is working. They may change your therapy recommendations during a virtual visit.

You can also participate in online physical therapy, which may improve your back pain.

If you have recently started to have lingering mild or moderate back pain without other symptoms, it is reasonable to talk to your healthcare provider about it during a telemedicine appointment. Your provider will discuss your symptoms with you, but you will likely need to be seen in person for a comprehensive physical examination, and possibly diagnostic tests too.

Telemedicine and Telehealth

Telemedicine and telehealth are overlapping types of care. Telemedicine is the practice of medicine over a distance, with the use of voice, video, documents, and data. Telehealth is a broader term that encompasses things like patient education, promotion, and prevention.

  • Telemedicine is an actual clinical experience, complete with HIPPA (patient privacy) compliance, diagnostic codes, treatments, and sometimes pre-surgical and post-surgical care.
  • Telehealth includes telemedicine, as well as things like apps or online weight loss programs.

When to Be Seen in Person

If you are having any numbness, weakness, or trouble with bowel or bladder control, it's important for you to be seen in person. These symptoms can be indicators of serious spinal cord problems that require prompt medical treatment—such as a spinal cord compression from a tumor.

The only way your healthcare providers would know whether you are experiencing an emergency associated with your back pain is by examining you in person, and possibly with imaging tests of the lower spine.

If you experience acute (sudden) back pain, you should be seen in person, as soon as possible.

Benefits and Challenges

There are several advantages and challenges to having your back pain care via telemedicine. Most importantly, a telehealth visit can be done from the comfort of your home, without the added driving time of an in-person visit. If you are busy with work, family, or other responsibilities, this convenience can allow you to keep up with appointments more easily than if you needed to carve out a significant amount of time to go to a clinic.

Some advantages of getting back pain care via telehealth:

  • Access to care: Depending on where you live or work, you might not be located near a provider who can take care of your back pain. If you are in a rural location, for example, you might not have easy access to a specialist who is qualified to take care of your condition. Telemedicine can bridge this gap.
  • Adapting to changes in your condition: Back pain can improve with treatment once the cause is diagnosed, but sometimes your condition may take a turn for the worse, medications might not be effective or cause side effects, or you might not need treatment anymore. Your healthcare provider may need to make changes in your treatments, and you can get quicker therapeutic changes if you don't wait too long between visits.
  • Consistent physical therapy; Physical therapy is most effective when it's consistent. You and your therapist may be able to have more frequent appointments with telemedicine if you are busy. They can observe you as you exercise, suggest ways to improve your movements, and make adjustments to your at-home therapy regimen as your condition evolves.

All of these benefits can have a positive impact on your back pain. Research suggests that telehealth can be beneficial for reducing patient-reported back pain using a pain scale.

Challenges

There are some disadvantages to getting your back pain care through telemedicine. Your healthcare providers, including your physical therapist, cannot examine your body through an online portal. They cannot detect things like subtle weakness, reflex changes, or sensory loss. While these factors would normally be examined during an initial visit, changes can occur with some types of back pain—and a delay in hands-on visits would delay the diagnosis of such changes.

Another disadvantage of telehealth for care of back pain is that your provider will not have a view of your movements from all angles, and some subtle problems that could be associated with back pain might not be seen. For example, some people with spine disease may have foot weakness, or the foot may turn while walking—this can be missed during a telemedicine visit.

How to Prepare for a Telehealth Visit for Back Pain

In between your visits for back pain, it's important that you keep track of your progress.

Make sure you are ready to tell your provider the following:

  • Whether your back pain is improving, stable, or worsening
  • Whether the location of your back pain is changing
  • If you have any associated symptoms, like leg pain, leg numbness, leg weakness, balance problems, or bowel or bladder control issues
  • If your back pain is affecting your sleep
  • If your back pain is affecting your ability to do certain activities
  • If there are lifestyle factors that affect your back pain
  • How well your back pain is responding to medication
  • How well your back pain is responding to physical therapy
  • If your at-home exercises are comfortable or painful
  • Any side effects from medication that you are taking

Will Insurance Cover Telehealth for Back Pain?

Medicare, Medicaid, and most private health insurance plans provide coverage for some telehealth services, and this may include aspects of back pain care. Check with your healthcare payer to see if any of the telehealth services recommended by your provider are covered and whether you will have to pay any out-of-pocket costs.

If you do not have health insurance, you will have to pay for your telehealth visit on your own, so check with your provider's billing office to see what your cost would be.

What Happens During the Visit?

During your telehealth visit, you will discuss your recent symptoms with your provider. You can ask any questions you have at this time.

You will be asked to walk on camera, and possibly raise one leg at a time. Your provider will also ask you to point to and show them any areas of pain or swelling,

You and your provider will discuss the next steps in your diagnostic and treatment plan, and you might be transferred to speak with office staff, who can help you make any follow-up appointments you need.

A Word From Verywell

Telehealth and telemedicine are becoming more accessible and can be practical ways of getting your healthcare. As long as you and your providers have a plan for which aspects of your care will be provided through telemedicine, you can benefit from this approach as you work through the process of finding relief from your back pain.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Tabacof L, Baker TS, Durbin JR, Desai V, Zeng Q, Sahasrabudhe A, Herrera JE, Putrino D. Telehealth treatment for nonspecific low back pain: A review of the current state in mobile health. PM R. 2021 Nov 16. doi:10.1002/pmrj.12738

  2. Fritz JM, Lane E, Minick KI, Bardsley T, Brennan G, Hunter SJ, McGee T, Rassu FS, Wegener ST, Skolasky RL. Perceptions of telehealth physical therapy among patients with chronic low back pain. Telemed Rep. 2021 Nov 3;2(1):258-263. doi:10.1089/tmr.2021.0028

  3. Dario AB, Moreti Cabral A, Almeida L, Ferreira ML, Refshauge K, Simic M, Pappas E, Ferreira PH. Effectiveness of telehealth-based interventions in the management of non-specific low back pain: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Spine J. 2017 Sep;17(9):1342-1351. doi:10.1016/j.spinee.2017.04.008

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