Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Neck FAQ


My wife and I are trying to help her mother move into an assisted living facility. One of the requirements is a doctor's exam and medical diagnosis or summary of her condition. I noticed that everything on the list was really a symptom like knee pain, neck pain, or headaches. Why isn't a diagnosis listed?


There are two kinds of diagnoses: symptom-based and pathology-based. The medical diagnosis your mother was given is an example of a symptom-based diagnosis. When it comes to joint pain, back pain, or neck pain, the underlying cause is often unknown.

For the older adult. aging and degeneration cause the symptoms listed. Treatment is often the same no matter what the cause is anyway. Patients are more likely to get a specific diagnosis based on more advanced testing (lab work, X-rays, MRIs) if they don't get better with conservative care.

Patients who are hospitalized are also more likely to be given a pathology-based diagnosis. If no pathology can be determined, then the physician once again relies on a symptom-based diagnosis.

Medical researchers are very busy trying to find ways to better classify or group patients with neck or back pain. These type of groupings is called a taxonomy. Improving taxonomy for painful musculoskeletal conditions could help direct research and ultimately find better treatment for each condition. Daniel L. Riddle, PT, PhD, FAPTA, and Susan M. Schappert, MA. Volume and Characteristics of Inpatient and Ambulatory Medical Care for Neck Pain in the United States. In Spine. January 1, 2007. Vol. 32. No. 1. Pp. 132-140.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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