“I just slept weird.”

“I overdid it at the gym.”

“I need a new mattress.”

When it comes to back pain, we have heard every possible reason or excuse in the book for why it isn’t a big deal. In reality, back pain can be debilitating or disabling if left untreated. Instead of explaining it away, ask these three questions of your health care provider.

1. What effect does back pain have on the rest of my body?

It is rare for back pain to only affect your back. Your body’s nervous system is divided into two parts – the central nervous system that is made up of your brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system which encompasses all of the nerves found throughout the rest of your body.

While your brain and spinal cord regulate all of the functions that you don’t have to think about (breathing, digestion, blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, etc.), your peripheral nervous system controls the way your muscles move, the way your body feels, and the majority of the pain you experience. If you have a vertebra out of place, chances are it is compressing one or more nerves that end in an arm, a leg, a foot, or a hand.

That is why many people who experience back pain also have pain radiating to another part of their body.

2. What did I do that causes/worsens my back pain?

You may be exacerbating your back pain without even knowing it. Do you carry a purse, briefcase or diaper bag? Do you tend to carry it in one hand or on one shoulder? Do you find yourself lugging an infant car seat around? Are you picking up children on a regular basis? How often do you sit at a computer?

The way you hold your body on a regular basis, especially when you are supporting weight can affect the way your back feels.

3. What is your treatment plan to fix the cause of my back pain?

Pain is one of the body’s most basic responses to a problem. If you touch a hot pan, the searing pain reminds you to draw your hand back away from danger. Where we get into trouble is when we listen to our natural tendency to get rid of the pain as quickly as possible, without regard for its underlying cause.

Popping a few anti-inflammatory pills or prescription opioids may offer temporary relief, but they will not heal muscle weakness, disc degeneration, disc compression, spinal stenosis, or other underlying causes of your back pain. Many health care professionals will recommend ice, stretches and anti-inflammatory medication as a remedy for back pain.

While these may be a part of your treatment plan, they should not be the whole treatment plan. Instead, it is important to choose a health care provider that will address your back pain’s underlying cause.

Asking these simple questions about your back pain will help you find and address its root cause, ultimately leading to better health and a pain-free life.