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How do I know if the treatment is helping or if I'm just getting better on my own?

Q: I have been treated for low back pain since my car accident four months ago. I seem to be getting better slowly, but how do I know if the treatment I'm getting is helping or if I'm just getting better on my own?

A: Health care treatments are being carefully evaluated. Doctors, therapists, and other health care workers are being asked to show evidence that the treatment they prescribe for low back pain is effective. This is called evidence-based practice.

There are many ways to look at whether or not treatment works. Sometimes doctors and therapists use a series of questions at the beginning of treatment. This type of survey is repeated during and after treatment as a way to measure treatment success.

Other ways to measure improvement include ranking pain and symptoms. From time to time, the doctor will ask you to choose a number on a scale from zero to 10. Zero means there are no pain or symptoms, and 10 is for the worst possible pain and symptoms. You should be moving closer to zero at this point.

Finally, you can step back and ask yourself, "Am I fully recovered? Improved but not fully recovered? Unchanged or worse?" Four months after your injury, you should be moving from improved to fully recovered. If you aren't moving in this direction, talk with your doctor or therapist. It may be helpful to try some different treatments when symptoms have lasted more than two months.