A Pain in the Back: When to Seek Medical Help for Spine Issues

Lower back pain is a highly prevalent condition. At some point in their lives, most individuals have experienced back pain. It remains an ongoing issue for many people and is the leading cause of work absences and disability globally. Back pain can manifest in various ways, from mild discomfort lasting a few days to excruciating agony persisting for several weeks. 

Fortunately, in most cases, back pain isn’t a serious cause for concern. With time and self-care, the pain often dissipates on its own. Over-the-counter painkillers, ice packs, and rest commonly serve as the primary treatments for the 80% of affected individuals.

Although many instances of back pain do resolve on their own, there are situations where waiting it out at home is not a prudent choice. Back pain is considered ‘chronic’ when it endures for over 12 weeks. Regrettably, a significant number of individuals remain unaware that chronic back pain might indicate more severe underlying issues with potentially long-term consequences. 

Let’s examine some warning signs that should prompt individuals to seek immediate care from a spinal expert.

Types of Back Pain

Identifying the type of back pain one has is the first step in treatment. There are generally two forms of back pain:

  • Acute back pain – This kind of back pain develops quickly and lasts only for a short amount of time. It may persist for a few days to as long as six weeks. Injuries are a common reason for acute back pain. For instance, if a person overstretches their back muscles during exercise, injures them, or lifts something heavy improperly, they may experience back pain.
  • Chronic Back Pain – The duration of this kind of back pain is three months or more. Even though chronic back pain might come and go, it can nevertheless significantly affect one’s quality of life and capacity to participate in particular activities. While the symptoms of chronic back pain are similar to those of acute back pain, they often develop gradually and are typically unrelated to a specific activity, such as vigorous exercise.

When Should I Visit a Doctor in Case of Back Pain?

Make an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible if any of the following describes the back pain you are experiencing:

  • Pain Persistent for More than a Week: Back pain typically subsides within a few days. However, if it persists for over a week or fails to improve with rest, it’s advisable to consult a doctor. They will conduct necessary checks or tests to identify the source of the pain, preventing the potential worsening of the condition. Early resolution of problems is crucial, as is the case with many health concerns.
  • Radiating Pain from the Back: If you’re dealing with severe back pain that radiates to other body parts, such as experiencing a sharp sensation down your leg, it’s important to seek medical attention. This could be indicative of sciatica, a pain condition affecting the sciatic nerve. Originating in the lower back, this nerve travels through the buttocks and extends down each leg. The common cause is herniated discs.
  • Unexplained Weight Loss: Back pain coupled with unexplained weight loss might signal a more serious underlying condition. If you experience unexpected weight reduction that cannot be attributed to dietary or lifestyle changes, particularly if it coincides with back pain, caution is advised. Both weight loss and back pain can be symptoms of endocarditis, a potentially life-threatening inflammation of the heart’s inner lining. To rule out the possibility of a serious disease like an infection or tumor, it’s recommended to consult a doctor.
  • Fever: Back pain and a fever certainly indicate symptoms of the flu. However, if the patient’s fever does not respond to normal over-the-counter treatments, they likely have an acute condition that must be treated right away. The presence of an infection might be indicated by fever and back pain. Meningitis, spinal epidural abscess, and vertebral osteomyelitis are examples of spinal infections. Spinal infections need to be treated by a doctor very promptly. 
  • Tingling, Weakness, or Numbness: Back pain coupled with tingling, numbness, or weakness may be a symptom of injured or irritated nerves. This is particularly true if the pain does not go away after using over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers. If neglected, nerve pain can be severe and lead to inability or permanent damage. 
  • Urination or Bowel Difficulties: It’s time to seek care right away at a nearby emergency department if a lack of control over the bowels or urine accompanies the back discomfort. These signs and symptoms suggest cauda equina syndrome, a condition in which the nerves in the lower spine are paralyzed. Despite being uncommon, if ignored, this disease can cause lifelong nerve damage. One may require surgery to decompress the nerves and retain their general function if they experience these symptoms, particularly if they are accompanied by numbness in the legs. Further potential reasons include an infection, a lesion or tumor in the spine, or a severe injury.

Back Pain Diagnosis

A doctor will first gather a medical history of the patient’s current symptoms, as well as details about their lifestyle, such as the amount of physical exercise they engage in daily, and their sleeping and eating habits. 

A physical examination will also be conducted to evaluate the patient’s nerve function and mobility in the lower back and lower body. 

Diagnostic imaging procedures like X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs are also advised to more accurately analyze the structure of the patient’s spine and inform treatment choices.

Common Back Pain Treatments

After synthesizing the information from the patient’s diagnosis, the doctor will recommend a back care program that suits the patient’s needs. Initially, non-surgical back pain treatments will be suggested. Common non-surgical procedures include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Massage therapy
  • Prescription medications for pain
  • Epidural steroid injections

Spinal surgery may be recommended if the patient’s pain is not alleviated by nonsurgical measures, such as those mentioned above.

Treat your back pain at Omni Hospital 

Omni Hospital specializes in spine pain management and offers the most effective treatments for neck and lower back pain. Our spine specialists understand the requirements and challenges that the spine and its supporting components face when treating back pain. Book an appointment to receive effective and safe treatment for your back pain.