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How To Know When Back Pain Is Serious

What Structures Make Up The Back

How to Know when Back Pain is Serious

The lower backwhere most back pain occursincludes the five vertebrae in the lumbar region, which supports much of the weight of the upper body. The spaces between the vertebrae are maintained by round, rubbery pads called intervertebral discs that act like shock absorbers throughout the spinal column to cushion the bones as the body moves. Bands of tissue known as ligaments hold the vertebrae in place, and tendons attach the muscles to the spinal column. Thirty-one pairs of nerves are rooted to the spinal cord and they control body movements and transmit signals from the body to the brain.

Other regions of vertebrate are cervical , thoracic , and sacral and coccygeal segments.

Too Much Rest After An Injury

If you over-rest your injured back, your muscles may lose their tone and conditioning. You’re also at risk of feeling stiff, which can happen if you don’t use your muscles. This stiffness can then tempt you to avoid moving, which encourages even more pain.

That’s why you should follow your doctor’s directions when it comes to rest. You don’t have to go back to your normal activities right after the second day. However, you should gradually move so that you can get your blood flowing properly again.

Encouraging circulation helps nourish your famished, injured back tissues. You can also use a medical back brace to support your back as you start moving again. It also acts as a compression device, so can it can help boost circulation, too.

You Were In A Car Accident

Weve probably all be there: were in a minor fender-bender or some small impact car accident. We may feel a bit jarred, but our body feels fine. So we just continue on. In most cases, things turn out okay. However, it is important to know that a seemingly small injury can indeed worsen over time especially injuries to the neck or back.

Conditions that may arise from a car accident include:

Back and neck injuries: including disc injuries, spine injuries, fractures, and sprains

Soft tissue injuries: including bruising, sprains, and tearing torn ligaments, muscles, and tendons.

Whiplash: symptoms include back and neck pain, headaches, and tinnitus

It is therefore recommended that if youre in a car accident and you feel any pain that you are checked out by a doctor. Ignoring back pain can lead to serious and often unnecessary complications.

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When Are Diagnostic Tests For Lower Back Pain Necessary

Many patients do not need X-rays in the first few weeks of pain because their pain will end up resolving. Many more do not need CT scans or MRI imaging, which are overly sensitive and often reveal abnormalities not related to the patients pain. These forms of imaging can be extremely useful, however, if a person has chronic or severe pain, and/or neurological symptoms. Blood tests may be ordered if an infection or tumor is suspected.

Signs Of Something Serious

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

So, can back or neck pain be a sign of something serious? An expert helps us navigate the waters.

While back pain is very common and usually benign and self-limiting, there are some signs and symptoms which could indicate a more serious medical condition requiring further evaluation and treatment, says , Medical Director of the University of Missouri Health Cares Comprehensive Spine Center.

According to Dr. Drymalski these red flags can include:

  • Persistent fevers
  • Progressive worsening of pain despite relative rest
  • Recent trauma

Some symptoms can come on suddenly while others can ramp up gradually. There are several conditions that can bring on these so-called red flags.

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Stiffness In The Morning

Its not always easy to get out of bed, but excessive morning back pain and stiffness could be a sign of spinal arthritis. Most types of arthritis including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis cause pain and stiffness that worsen toward the end of the day and after periods of rest, like a nightâs sleep.

Any part of the spine can become arthritic, but the lower back , is most commonly affected. Thankfully, there are ways to manage the condition. Once diagnosed using a physical exam and x-ray imaging, spinal arthritis can be treated with pain medication and physical therapy. Surgery is needed in rare cases.

Protect yourself before itâs too late. Getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy body weight, practicing good posture and doing your best to avoid spinal injury all decrease your risk for spinal arthritis and other back-related issues.

How Do I Know If My Upper Back Pain Is Serious

If you have upper and middle back pain without any other symptoms, then probably you will be able to manage your symptoms at home. Over-the-counterpain medications and heat or ice packs may relieve your symptoms. If back pain starts after you make a wrong move lifting or twisting and it then goes away within 72 hours of treatment, there is nothing to worry about. However, if the pain appears immediately or does not go away, it might indicate a severe underlying condition.

Your back pain may indicate a severe underlying medical condition if

  • Pain becomes too intense and starts to affect your daily activities.
  • You have a fever along with pain.
  • Pain that starts immediately after a fall, an accident or a sports injury.
  • Pain lingers for more than a few days and requires regular pain medications.
  • You have severe pain in the side and back below your ribs.
  • You have pain along with numbness or weakness in your arms or legs.
  • You have numbness or tingling in your arms, legs, chest or belly.
  • Pain radiates to one or both legs, especially, if the pain extends below the knee.

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The Worst Spine Pain Is Often The Least Scariest

The good news is, the intensity of spine pain is an unreliable indicator of the conditionâs ominousness. While the most chronic and worst spine and low back pain are unbearable, some of the worst causes are less painful.

For instance, in the cauda equina syndrome, the spine pain can be very minimal to none at all. And this particular condition is a serious one.

On the other hand, many non-ominous conditions can result in chronic low back and spine pain. Consider a muscle cramp. It can be severely painful.

However, a muscle cramp is not a life-threatening condition. Painful as it is, the only thing itâs endangering is your comfort.

How Is Back Pain Treated

Low Back Pain – How to Know if My Back Pain Serious

Acute back pain usually gets better on its own. Acute back pain is usually treated with:

  • Medications designed to relieve pain and/or inflammation
  • analgesics such as acetaminophen and aspirin
  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen may be sold over the counter some NSAIDS are prescribed by a physician
  • muscle relaxants are prescription drugs that are used on a short-term basis to relax tight muscles
  • topical pain relief such as creams, gels, patches, or sprays applied to the skin stimulate the nerves in the skin to provide feelings of warmth or cold in order to dull the sensation of pain. Common topical medications include capsaicin and lidocaine.
  • Heat and/or ice may help ease pain, reduce inflammation, and improve mobility for some people
  • Gentle stretching upon advice by your healthcare professional
  • Exercising, bed rest, and surgery are typically not recommended for acute back pain.Chronic back pain is most often treated with a stepped care approach, moving from simple low-cost treatments to more aggressive approaches. Specific treatments may depend on the identified cause of the back pain.

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    What Are The Causes Of Back Pain

    A muscle strain or pulled muscle is a common cause of back pain and happens when you injure the tendon or ligaments by overusing or misusing your back muscles.

    Anyone can pull a muscle. Factors that can contribute to the problem include:

    • Aging
    • Lack of exercise or not warming up before exercising
    • Excess body weight
    • Sitting for long periods of time

    Certain health conditions can also cause back pain, including:

    • A herniated disc that may be pressing on nerves
    • Degenerative Disc Disease
    • Infections and cancer, in rare cases

    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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    Two Back Pain Situations You Should Take Seriously Right Away No Delay

    These two back pain scenarios might be medical emergencies. They do not necessarily mean something horrible is wrong, but its important to make sure.

  • Pain and weakness in both legs, especially if its also hard to pee. More about this below.
  • Any accident with forces that may have been sufficient to fracture your spine. Please seek thorough medical assessment promptly, including an X-ray to look for a fracture. You really do need an X-ray to ensure that your spine is not actually broken. They arent necessarily as obvious as youd think!12
  • Isnt it rather obvious that a potential spinal fracture is an emergency?

    Youd think so. But consider this story of a motorcycle accident: many years ago, a friend hit a car that had pulled out from a side street. He flew over the car & landed on his head. Bystanders showed their ignorance of spinal fracture by, yikes, carelessly moving him. In fact, his thoracic spine was significantly fractured yet the hospital actually refused to do an X-ray because he had no obvious symptoms of a spinal fracture. Incredible! The next day, a horrified orthopedic surgeon ordered an X-ray immediately, confirming the fracture & quite possibly saved him from paralysis.

    Pain + weakness in both legs as symptoms of cauda equina syndrome or not

    That said, obviously you should be checked out if you are experiencing true saddle numbness.17 Even if its not CES, any significant malfunction of your plumbing should be taken seriously.

    What Does It Mean If Lower Back Pain Is Shooting Into Legs

    Severe Lower Back Pain: Whats Causing It &  How to Fix It

    Lower back pain can radiate to other parts of the body: up or down from its place of origin. Sometimes lower back pain can be on one side of the back, which is also normal.

    If the pain is shooting from the lower back into one or both legs, it could be sciatica , but its not always the case. There are many parts in the lower back that may cause the pain to radiate into the legs, such as facet joints, sacroiliac joints, muscles or inflammation of the bursa.

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    Following Up With Your Doctor

    After making treatment recommendations, a doctor will typically ask to see you again in 6 to 12 weeks. In the interim, if your chronic back pain symptoms do not improve or even get worse with treatment, you can contact your doctors office and ask about adjusting the treatment plan.

    For example, if you have been diagnosed with chronic lower back pain caused by degenerative disc disease, you may be prescribed a muscle relaxant or advised to take an over-the-counter pain reliever. If you find the recommended medication causes side effects that you cant tolerate, your doctor can recommend alternatives.

    Is This Serious Decoding Back Pain

    Some back pain needs pampering at home while other forms may need evaluation by your doctor. Learn how to know the difference.


    Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation

    California Pacific Medical Center

    Back pain can strike suddenly, or develop gradually into a dull ache. It can be caused by a serious fall or brought on by a single sneeze. So what should you make of these varying causes and symptoms? And when should you seek help from a doctor?

    Here are three clues to help you decode your back pain and choose the right approach to treatment.

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    Severity Of The Symptoms

    The severity of your symptoms is one factor you should consider when determining if your LBP is serious. However, symptom severity can sometimes be misleading. For instance, a strained lower back muscle may produce severe pain for the first few days until the tissue irritation and swelling subsides. On the other hand, LBP from degenerative disc disease can result in dull aches that slowly become more distracting over time.

    Can Lower Back Pain Be A Sign Of Something Serious Like Cancer

    How Do I Know If My Back Pain Is Serious?

    Lower back pain can be related to cancer. In fact, it is one of the first symptoms of prostate cancer when it metastasizes and creates lesions. Almost any cancer can spread to the back and some, like sarcoma, can originate in the back. Be cautious, especially if you are experiencing other symptoms besides lower back pain. Talk to your doctor if you have additional symptoms or concerns.

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    How To Tell If Your Lower Back Pain Is Muscle

    by Dr. Don DuffAug 20, 2019

    The low back is a fairly complicated structure, so its no wonder the majority of peopleexperts estimate up to 80% of usexperience pain in this area of our bodies at some point in our lives. In fact, back pain is one of the most common reasons for visits to the doctors office.

    The key to relieving back pain is understanding the cause. But diagnosing the of a patients pain isnt always a straightforward exercise. It could be muscle, joint, or disc-related in some cases, it may even arise from issues unrelated to the back. So how can you tell if your back pain is muscle- or disc-related, or attributable to something else entirely? Well cover all the possibilities in this post.

    • Swollen glands
    • Feeling down

    And an emergency physician-in-chief at the New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center said they are seeing symptoms lasted for three to five days for most people.

    He said they are more mild in vaccinated people, with those suffering the most largely unvaccinated.

    Dr Rahul Sharma said: âA lot of these patients are not having the symptoms for the 10 to 12 days that I saw when there were no vaccinations.

    âWhat I can tell you is that patients that are unvaccinated are definitely our sicker patients.

    âThose are the patients that are more likely to go to the ICU. Those are the patients that are more likely to be admitted to the hospital.â

    Signs That Its Time To Call A Doctor For Your Back Pain

    Most people have experienced back pain at some point in their lives. It’s actually the leading cause of disability worldwide and the most common reason people call out of work. Back pain can come in many different forms, ranging from a dull ache that lasts only a few days to severe pain that lasts for weeks.

    Depending on the intensity of the pain, there are many treatments you can try at home to help. But how do you know when it’s time to stop home remedies and see a physician?

    If any of the following applies to your back pain, then it’s time to make an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible.

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    Get Help For Your Back Pain

    While this all may sound dire, you can take comfort in knowing that upwards of 90% of low back pain presentations in the ER are benign, according to findings. The important thing is to stay as calm as you can as you assess your pain and symptoms and rely on medical experts to assist you and get down to the bottom of why youre feeling the way you are.

    Dr. Drymalski emphasizes, Remember that back pain is very common and the vast majority of the time it will be self-limiting and benign. If you are concerned or have red-flag symptoms, emergent evaluation may be necessary. It is important to always tell your doctor all of your symptoms, even if you dont know if they are related to your back pain, so your doctor can develop the most appropriate workup and treatment plan for you.

    Intro: The Lancet. Non-specific low back pain

    Intro: The Spine Journal Low back pain in the United States: incidence and risk factors for presentation in the emergency setting

    The Bottom Line: Emergency Medicine Cases Low Back Pain Emergencies

    How To Relieve Back Pain

    Better Management of Chronic Lower Back Pain

    The following tips may help reduce your back pain and speed up your recovery:

    • stay as active as possible and try to continue your daily activities this is 1 of the most important things you can do, as resting for long periods is likely to make the pain worse
    • try exercises and stretches for back pain other activities such as walking, swimming, yoga and pilates may also be helpful
    • take anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as ibuprofen remember to check the medicine is safe for you to take and ask a pharmacist if you’re not sure
    • use hot or cold compression packs for short-term relief you can buy these from a pharmacy, or a hot water bottle or a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth or towel will work just as well

    Although it can be difficult, it helps if you stay optimistic and recognise that your pain should get better. People who manage to stay positive despite their pain tend to recover quicker.

    Back pain usually gets better on its own within a few weeks or months and you may not need to see a doctor or other healthcare professional.

    But it’s a good idea to get help if:

    • the pain does not start to improve within a few weeks
    • the pain stops you doing your day-to-day activities
    • the pain is very severe or gets worse over time
    • you’re worried about the pain or struggling to cope

    If you see a GP they will ask about your symptoms, examine your back and discuss possible treatments.

    They may refer you to a specialist doctor or a physiotherapist for further help.

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