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How Do I Know If My Back Pain Is Serious

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How Do You Know If Your Low Back Injury Is Serious?

At UT Southwestern, we customize treatment to each patients needs, including offering medication or minimally invasive treatments whenever possible. This allows patients to avoid undergoing open surgeries, which are more extensive and require longer recovery times.

Women shouldnt hesitate to visit a doctor if they experience abnormal bleeding or pelvic pain. Fighting through symptoms is unnecessary especially with the wide variety of ways to diagnose and treat the conditions. To find out what treatment is best for you, call or request an appointment online.

How Are Back And Neck Pain Managed

Acute back pain usually gets better without special treatment. Using acetaminophen or ibuprofen as directed will decrease pain and help you rest. Surgery and special exercises are generally not used with acute pain.

For severe, disabling, or chronic back and neck pain, rehabilitation programs can be designed to meet your needs. The type of program will depend on the cause and the type and severity of your pain, injury, or disease. Your active involvement is key to the success of rehab programs.

The goal of back and neck rehab is to help you manage disabling pain. It’s also important to return you to your highest level of functioning and independence, and improve your quality of life. The focus of rehab is on easing pain, improving movement. It also focuses on limiting any additional damage, and increasing your functional ability.

To help reach these goals, back and neck rehab programs may include:

  • Exercise programs to improve range of motion, increase muscle strength, improve flexibility and mobility, and increase endurance
  • Help with assistive devices that keep you independent
  • Education and counseling
  • Gait and movement retraining
  • Stress management
  • Ergonomic assessments and work-related injury prevention programs

Back Pain And Pregnancy

Back pain during each trimester of your pregnancy can be common, and several causes are to blame. However, you should be sure to talk with your doctor about what youre experiencing, in case the pain may be part of a bigger problem.

Here are a few reasons why you may be experiencing back pain during pregnancy:

Shifting center of gravity

As your baby grows, the center of your bodys gravity moves outward. Your spine and back arch to make up for the change in balance. This put extra stress on the lower lumbar spine.

Weight gain

Weight gain can be a healthy part of pregnancy, but even the little bit youre likely to gain during those 9 months can put more stress on your back and core muscles.


As your body prepares to deliver the baby, it releases hormones that loosen the ligaments that stabilize your pelvis and lumbar spine. These same hormones can cause the bones in your spine to shift, which may lead to discomfort and pain.

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How To Tell If Your Back Pain Is Serious

If youve often wondered whether or not that pain in your back is serious and you need to see someone about it, you are not alone. As many as 80 percent of the population will experience back pain at some point in their lives, but knowing when to seek professional help can make a big difference. Heres how you can tell if your back pain is minor or if its something serious that should be seen as soon as possible.

Pain and Swelling

If you have a back injury, some swelling might just be par for the course. The real difference lies in how much pain and swelling you are experiencing. If you have pain that makes it difficult for you to sleep or keeps you from doing everyday activities, then you need to be examined by your chiropractor.

Many studies have shown if you leave a serious injury untreated it can take you that much longer to heal and recover completely, so being proactive will get you back on the proverbial horse sooner.

Walking or Standing Causes Severe Pain

If youre experiencing intense pain when you simply stand, walk or try to lift your arms — or you feel tingling, numbness or pain down the back of your arms or legs — then you need to see a medical professional such as your chiropractor. If you have a subluxation causing this pain and discomfort, it can cause irritation to the nerves exiting your spinal column, so seeing a chiropractor is the way to go.

You Can’t Turn or Move Your Body

Other Warning Signs

Low Back Pain Fact Sheet

How Do I Know if My Back Pain is Serious?

If you have had lower back pain, you are not alone. Back pain is one of most common reasons people see a doctor or miss days at work. Even school-age children can have back pain.

Back pain can range in intensity from a dull, constant ache to a sudden, sharp or shooting pain. It can begin suddenly as a result of an accident or by lifting something heavy, or it can develop over time as we age. Getting too little exercise followed by a strenuous workout also can cause back pain.

There are two types of back pain:

  • Acute, or short-term back pain lasts a few days to a few weeks. Most low back pain is acute. It tends to resolve on its own within a few days with self-care and there is no residual loss of function. In some cases a few months are required for the symptoms to disappear.
  • Chronic back pain is defined as pain that continues for 12 weeks or longer, even after an initial injury or underlying cause of acute low back pain has been treated. About 20 percent of people affected by acute low back pain develop chronic low back pain with persistent symptoms at one year. Even if pain persists, it does not always mean there is a medically serious underlying cause or one that can be easily identified and treated. In some cases, treatment successfully relieves chronic low back pain, but in other cases pain continues despite medical and surgical treatment.

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What Is Back And Neck Pain

Back pain can range from a mild, dull, annoying ache to persistent, severe, disabling pain. Pain in your back can limit your ability to move. It can interfere with normal functioning and quality of life. Always talk with your healthcare provider if you have persistent pain.

Neck pain occurs in the area of the cervical vertebrae in your neck. Because of its location and range of motion, your neck is often left unprotected and at risk for injury.

Pain in your back or neck area can come on suddenly and intensely. Chronic pain lasts for weeks, months, or even years. The pain can be constant or come and go.

Your Back Pain May Be Serious And Worth Seeking Treatment If It Hasnt Improved After A Few Weeks Or If The Pain Is Connected To A Fall Or Other Injury Numbness And Tingling In The Arms Or Legs Are Also Signs That Taking Care Of It Yourself At Home May Not Be Enough

If you have back pain, it can be difficult to know when its serious enough to get help. The pain may be in one part of your back, all over or even in other areas such as your rear end, legs or abdomen.

Lifting or bending. Sitting or standing. Even resting can aggravate the pain.

Your back pain may be serious and worth seeking treatment if it hasnt improved after a few weeks or if the pain is connected to a fall or other injury. Numbness and tingling in the arms or legs are also signs that taking care of it yourself at home may not be enough.

Other symptoms in addition to the back pain such as trouble urinating, leg weakness or pain, fever or unintended weight loss are all signs that its time to see a health care provider.

For many back conditions, your primary care provider can be the first stop, said Lacey A. Jurich, APRN, a nurse practitioner and family medicine provider at Norton Community Medical Associates Bardstown. A primary care provider can assess whether you need to see a specialist. Back pain often can be addressed with medication, physical therapy and other conservative steps, but sometimes a minimally invasive surgical procedure is required.

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Pain Intensifies When You Move

You had a recent fall, but you didnt think your back would hurt this much! If you had a traumatic injury, like a heavy object lands on your back or you slip on the ice and fall with your back striking the edge of a step, you can break a vertebral bone or a rib, notes Dr. Tien. The pain can be moderate to severe, but it will get worse when you move. Talk to your doctor, especially after any bad injury.

The Big Three Signs That You Should Investigate For An Ominous Cause Of Persistent Low Back Pain

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You shouldnt worry about low back pain until three conditions have been met:

  • its been bothering you for more than about 6 weeks
  • its severe and/or not improving, or actually getting worse
  • there is at least one other red flag
  • The presence of the big three does not confirm that something horrible is going on. It only means that you need to check carefully.

    The story of actor Andy Whitfield is a disturbing and educational example of a case that met these conditions for sure the first two, and probably the third as well if we knew the details. Whitfield was the star of the hit TV show Spartacus . The first sign of the cancer that killed him in 2011 was steadily worsening back pain. Its always hard to diagnose a cancer that starts this way, but Whitfield was in the middle of intense physical training to look the part of historys most famous gladiator. Back pain didnt seem unusual at first, and some other symptoms may have been obscured. Weight loss could have even seemed like a training victory at first! It was many long months before he was diagnosed not until the back pain was severe and constant. A scan finally revealed a large tumour pressing against his spine.

    Dont confuse threat and risk. Working at the edge is a risk. But then again, so is walking out your front door.

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    When Lower Back Pain Is Serious

    As a general rule, if your lower back pain does not subside within 1 to 2 weeks, you should visit your doctor. Odds are that your pain is not a sign of a medical emergency, but a doctor can provide you with an accurate diagnosis and recommend a treatment plan.

    A good treatment plan will address your symptoms as well as the underlying condition causing them. Conversely, a wrong diagnosis and treatments can sometimes make your back pain worse.

    What Can Cause Lower Back Pain

    Most acute low back pain is mechanical in nature, meaning that there is a disruption in the way the components of the back fit together and move. Some examples of mechanical causes of low back pain include:


    • Skeletal irregularities such as scoliosis , lordosis , kyphosis , and other congenital anomalies of the spine.
    • Spina bifida which involves the incomplete development of the spinal cord and/or its protective covering and can cause problems involving malformation of vertebrae and abnormal sensations and even paralysis.


    • Sprains , strains , and spasms
    • Traumatic Injury such as from playing sports, car accidents, or a fall that can injure tendons, ligaments, or muscle causing the pain, as well as compress the spine and cause discs to rupture or herniate.

    Degenerative problems

    • Intervertebral disc degeneration which occurs when the usually rubbery discs wear down as a normal process of aging and lose their cushioning ability.
    • Spondylosis the general degeneration of the spine associated with normal wear and tear that occurs in the joints, discs, and bones of the spine as people get older.
    • Arthritis or other inflammatory disease in the spine, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis as well as spondylitis, an inflammation of the vertebrae.

    Nerve and spinal cord problems

    Non-spine sources

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    Your Pain Extends To Other Body Parts

    If you’re experiencing severe back pain that is coupled with pain in other areas such as shooting pain down your leg then you should see a doctor. This could be a sign that you have sciatica, a form of pain that affects the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back and through the buttocks before branching down each leg. This condition usually results from a herniated disk. A doctor will be able to offer a variety of ways that you can relieve this pain.

    Lower Back Pain That May Be A Medical Emergency

    How Do I Know If My Back Pain Is Serious

    If your lower back pain is accompanied by other troubling symptoms, it may require immediate medical attention. Seek immediate medical care if your lower back pain is experienced in tandem with any of the following symptoms:

    • Increasing weakness in your legs
    • Loss of bladder and/or bowel control
    • Severe stomach pain

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    Should I Get My Back Pain Treated

    Some of the common symptoms that require medical treatment include persistent muscle aches in the back, pain that worsens from physical activity, and stabbing pain. Numbness or weakness in one or both legs can also be a radiating issue that starts in the back.

    A doctor can provide the proper diagnosis and prescribe a treatment plan to address your back pain. Most back problems do not require surgical intervention of any kind, so there is no need to worry about requiring surgery it is best to see a physician as soon as possible in order to stop your back pain from developing further.

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    Key Points About Back And Neck Pain

    • Back and neck problems range from minor aches to severe, disabling pain.
    • Often, the reason for your pain can’t be found.
    • See a healthcare provider if you have numbness or tingling, severe pain that does not improve with medicine and rest, trouble urinating, weakness, pain, or numbness in your legs, fever, unintentional weight loss, or pain after a fall.
    • Often, back and neck pain will improve over time. See your healthcare provider if your pain is not decreasing.
    • Use prevention strategies to keep yourself healthy and injury-free.
    • For severe, disabling, or chronic back pain, consider an individualized rehabilitation program.

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    What Is Lower Back Pain

    Low back pain can result from many different injuries, conditions or diseases most often, an injury to muscles or tendons in the back.

    Pain can range from mild to severe. In some cases, pain can make it difficult or impossible to walk, sleep, work or do everyday activities.

    Usually, lower back pain gets better with rest, pain relievers and physical therapy . Cortisone injections and hands-on treatments can relieve pain and help the healing process. Some back injuries and conditions require surgical repair.

    What Can I Do For Low Back Pain At Home

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    If your lower back pain has just started, the best thing you can do is start a log. Record your symptoms, times, dates and which activities trigger the pain or make it worse or better. Take this information to your family physician if the pain doesnt resolve on its own. It will make diagnosing the cause much easier.

    Once you know which motion or position causes your lower back pain, try to avoid it and see if you get better. Icing the painful spot can also help. And so can over-the-counter pain relievers that help reduce inflammation. Just remember that pain killers treat only the symptom pain and not its cause.

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    What Are The Warning Signs Of A Serious Problem

    Very rarely back pain or pain that travels down the leg is a sign of a serious problem.

    If you have any of the following symptoms, you should seek urgent medical attention:

    • difficulty controlling or passing urine
    • loss of control of your bowels
    • numbness around your back passage or your genitals
    • serious weakness in your legs so you find standing really difficult
    • severe and ongoing back pain that gets worse over several weeks.

    The above symptoms could potentially be linked to a rare but serious condition that needs urgent medical attention.

    Chronic Or Acute Pain

    • Acute pain starts suddenly and lasts for up to 6 weeks.
    • Chronic or long-term pain develops over a longer period, lasts for over 3 months, and causes ongoing problems.

    If a person has both occasional bouts of more intense pain and fairly continuous mild back pain, it can be hard for a doctor to determine whether they have acute or chronic back pain.

    Back pain usually resolves with rest and home remedies, but sometimes medical treatment is necessary.

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    How Is Back Pain Diagnosed

    Your health professional will first assess your back pain. They may ask questions including:

    • When did your back pain begin?
    • What activities were you doing differently to normal before your back pain started?
    • How would you describe the pain? Is there tingling or numbness?
    • What makes the pain better or worse?

    If your pain doesnt settle after a few weeks or starts getting worse, ask your doctor or other health care professional about other management options. You may be referred for tests if there is reason to suspect a more serious cause for your back pain.

    In most situations, imaging such as X-ray, CT or MRI scans are not helpful unless there is an obvious injury or strain.

    Unnecessary tests can be expensive, and many investigations will show changes in your spine that reflect the normal passage of time, rather than damage to your spine.


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