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.
How Is Low Back Pain Diagnosed
A complete medical history and physical exam can usually identify any serious conditions that may be causing the pain. Neurologic tests can help determine the cause of pain and appropriate treatment. Imaging tests are not needed in most cases but may be ordered to rule out specific causes of pain, including tumors and spinal stenosis. Occasionally the cause of chronic lower back pain is difficult to determine even after a thorough examination.
Blood tests are not routinely used to diagnose the cause of back pain but might be ordered to look for signs of inflammation, infection, cancer, and/or arthritis.
Bone scans can detect and monitor an infection, fracture, or bone disorder. A small amount of radioactive material is injected into the bloodstream and collects in the bones, particularly in areas with some abnormality. Scanner-generated images can identify specific areas of irregular bone metabolism or abnormal blood flow, as well as to measure levels of joint disease.
Discography involves injecting a contrast dye into a spinal disc thought to be causing low back pain. The fluids pressure in the disc will reproduce the persons symptoms if the disc is the cause. The dye helps to show the damaged areas on CT scans taken following the injection.
Electrodiagnostics can identify problems related to the nerves in the back and legs. The procedures include:
How To Determine If Lower Back Pain Is Serious
Lower back pain is the most common type of spine-related pain, partly because this area is often affected by daily movements. Most of the time LBP is only a temporary inconvenience due to strained or overextended muscles, sprained ligaments, or inflamed tissues. Nonetheless, every instance of LBP is unique and shouldnt be ignored, especially if the resulting discomfort is getting worse or not going away. Heres how you can tell if your LBP is something serious.
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Other Causes Of Back Pain
There are many other potential causes of back pain, but most are rare. Be sure to see a doctor if you experience regular back pain that does not go away.
After ruling out the more common causes of back pain, your doctor will perform tests to determine if you have a rarer cause. These can :
- one of the vertebrae moving out of place and onto a nearby vertebra, called degenerative spondylolisthesis
- loss of nerve function at the lower spinal cord, called cauda equina syndrome
- fungal or bacterial infection of the spine, such as Staphylococcus, E. coli, or tuberculosis
Back pain can have many symptoms, including:
- a dull, aching sensation in the lower back
- a stabbing or shooting pain that can radiate down the leg to the foot
- an inability to stand up straight without pain
- a decreased range of motion and reduced ability to flex the back
The symptoms of back pain, if due to strain or misuse, are usually short lived but can last for days or weeks.
Back pain is chronic when symptoms have been present for 3 months.
All Of The Worst Possible Causes Of Back Pain And Their Major Features
None of these are common. All of them usually cause serious symptoms that are easy to take seriously. Some of them can fly under the radar in early stages, but usually not for long. The names of the conditions link to carefully chosen articles from good sources.The worst possible causes of back pain
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Finucane LM, Downie A, Mercer C, et al. International Framework for Red Flags for Potential Serious Spinal Pathologies. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2020 Jul 50:350372. PubMed #32438853
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How To Treat A Pulled Muscle
Prevention should always be the primary goal:
- Maintain strong abdominal and back core muscles to help stabilize your spine and prevent strain on back muscles.
- Live a healthy lifestyle, including weight management and low-impact aerobic exercises, to build muscle strength and prevent strain.
- Maintain a neutral posture when sitting or standing.
- Utilize leg muscles instead of back muscles when lifting objects to prevent back muscle fatigue and injury.
Muscular back pain usually goes away after several weeks of home care, says Dr. Van Dien. Despite the popular belief that you must rest, early mobilization and walking following an acute back strain will help keep muscles loose and prevent further lower back tightness. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication and alternating ice and heat can be helpful with the initial onset of pain. Your doctor may also recommend a course of physical therapy.
Common Types Of Back Pain
Sharp pain in a specific part of the back could be caused by a torn muscle or an internal organ problem.
Radiating pain that shoots into the legs often indicates some degree of nerve damage, and if the pain extends below your knees, its likely more severe.
Additionally, any pain that lingers for days or weeks at a time is worth getting checked out. Why spend more time in pain than necessary when there could be an easy solution?
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How Tria Neck And Back Strengthening Program Helps You Heal Your Back Pain
What many people dont realize about chronic back pain is that it can often be solved without surgery. Yes, sometimes surgery is the suggestion but only after non-surgical options have stopped working.
At TRIA Neck and Back Strengthening Program our spine strengthening program focuses on active physical therapy which focuses on movement-based activities. This is a proven method for healing chronic back pain just ask any of the 200,000-plus patients weve worked with over the past 30 years.
Through this program, youll do an intake with a doctor or physical therapist who specializes in spine care and chronic pain. Theyll work with you to determine the best pain management treatment plan. Then youll work one-on-one with a physical therapist.
Most programs are six to 12 weeks long, and your therapy happens at one of our facilities that features state-of-the-art medical exercise equipment. As part of your care, youll learn about what chronic pain is and how the brain processes it.
Youll also focus on body mechanics such as proper lifting, standing and sleeping all the things that can contribute to back pain but you probably dont think about. And as you progress, youll learn how to continually improve and maintain your back strength on you own so you can keep back pain at bay long-term.
Want to learn more about TRIA Neck and Back Strengthening Program? Watch this short video.
Can Back Pain Be Prevented
Recurring back pain resulting from improper body mechanics may be prevented by avoiding movements that jolt or strain the back, maintaining correct posture, and lifting objects properly. Many work-related injuries are caused or aggravated by stressors such as heavy lifting, contact stress , vibration, repetitive motion, and awkward posture.Recommendations for keeping ones back healthy
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When Should I See My Doctor
Apart from the signs of a serious back injury, you should see your doctor if:
- your problems have not improved at all within a few days
- your problems have not improved completely within 6 weeks
Your doctor may be able to help you manage any pain and may refer you for physiotherapy or other investigations.
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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Signs Back Pain Is Something More Serious
Anybody who has ever experienced back pain knows that its no joking matter.
Per the American Chiropractic Association, back pain is the number one cause of disability around the globe. In the United States, 80 million working adults experience the discomfort of the back or neck every year, resulting in a total of more than 260 million days of work missed.
Here are some other facts about this painful condition:
80% of people experience an aching or painful back at some time in their lives.
Backaches are the 3rd most common reason for doctor visits.
Back issues costs Americans up to $100 billion annually.
Most causes of spinal discomfort are caused not by a medical condition, but an alteration of the backs physiology
The number of disabled due to problems with the lower back has risen 54% between 1990 and 2015.
Back pain, if left untreated, can progress into a chronic and debilitating medical condition. For the vast majority of such cases, the resultant symptoms are wholly preventable.
While back pain is quite common, and its symptoms uncomfortable, spinal pain is rarely severe. However, there are exceptions. In this article, were going to describe seven signs that your back pain may be more serious than you think. Well also discuss the causes, symptoms, and risk factors associated with back pain.
Lets do this!
When To See A Spine Specialist For Chronic Back Pain
Sometimes back pain comes on quick, and you know exactly what caused it. After some stretching, resting and pain relievers, you’ll remember to bend with your knees next time.
But, other times, people experiencing back pain are often left thinking: I don’t even remember when the pain started or what I did to cause it. The reality is that the source of you back pain may not always be evident which can also make it hard to know when it’s time to see an expert.
Dr. Hwang says the following five signs likely indicate that it’s time to see a spine specialist for your back pain:
1. Your pain is severe. While some back pain is only mild to moderate, severe back pain is when your pain is constant, intense or gets worse when you’re resting or at night.
2. Your pain is persistent. If your back pain lasts longer than three months, it’s considered chronic and may require a tailored treatment plan.
3. Your pain isn’t isolated to your back. If your pain is traveling down your leg, you have numbness or weakness in your hips or legs, or you’re experiencing tingling in your legs and feet, it may be a sign that there’s pressure on your spine.
4. Everyday activities have become difficult. If your back pain is already affecting routine activities, don’t let it get so debilitating that it keeps you from doing things you enjoy.
- Find a Houston Methodist spine specialist that can treat your back pain at a location convenient for you
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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.
Is The Pain Short
Back pain typically falls into one of two categories, regardless of its underlying cause: acute back pain and chronic back pain. When diagnosing your back pain, this is one of the first items your doctor will address.
Acute Back Pain
Acute back pain is short-term and appears suddenly. Common causes of acute back pain include stress, strains, awkward movement, and muscles and/or soft tissue injuries.
The majority of back pain is considered acute, meaning it lasts no longer than six weeks. However, this does not mean that the pain cannot be the symptom of something more serious.
Typically, it is advised that you see a doctor about your back pain if it persists for more than two weeks. You should also see a doctor if you suspect your back pain is the result of a car accident or some kind of impact or fall injury.
Chronic Back Pain
Chronic back pain is back pain that lasts more than six weeks and is often a symptom of a more serious underlying injury or condition. Remember, chronic back pain is not always constant or continuous. In fact, the back pain may resolve after a few weeks then come back later. This is called recurrent back pain.
If you experience chronic pain to the point that it impacts your health, mobility, or quality of life, you should see a doctor immediately. The injuries or conditions that cause chronic back pain can worsen over time without treatment, resulting in even more pain and debilitation.
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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.
You Feel Very Fatigued
In one eye-opening survey, 43 percent of Americans admitted to being too tired to function at work. The National Safety Council also found that 97 percent of survey respondents reported at least one risk factor for fatigue.
In short, Americans are all too familiar with fatigue and exhaustion. Unfortunately, the ubiquitous nature of fatigue is precisely why the problem is so overlooked even if theres a potential medical emergency. For example, a backache coupled with extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, and nausea could signify heart problems.
The symptoms mentioned above should also be considered a medical emergency.
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Chronic Low Back Pain Is Serious But Rarely Ominous
Back pain can suck the joy out of your days for week, months, even years. It can definitely be serious even when its not dangerous. I have worked with many truly miserable chronic low back pain patients, and of course the huge economic costs of back pain are cited practically anywhere the subject comes up. But your typical case of chronic low back pain, as nasty as it can be, has never killed anyone.
Ominous is medical jargon for truly scary. Cue Jaws theme music. Low back pain is ominous when it is caused by something that can cripple or kill you. Such causes are rare, fortunately. But awful things do happen, even the best doctors can miss them .
Ordinary back pain can be fierce & awful but not dangerous. Its bark is almost always much louder than its bite.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Back Pain
Back pain may be experienced anywhere along the spine from the neck to the buttocks. In some cases, pain may also be felt in one or both legs. Its common to be a bit restricted in daily activities such as bending, lifting, sitting and walking while youre experiencing back pain.
Movement of your torso may be limited by back pain. There may also be tenderness when pressure is applied to the joints of the spine. Reduction of reflexes, strength and sensation in the legs can be a sign of nerve compression.
Its common for people with back pain to feel distressed about their recovery. People with persistent back pain can develop fear of movement and activity , worrying that it will make things worse or increase their pain. Living with persistent back pain may also lead to mood issues, such as anxiety, irritability, frustration and depression.
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