Healthy Living

When Should I See a Doctor if I have Back Pain?

When Should I See a Doctor if I have Back Pain?

Key Takeaways

  • Simple treatments at home like proper exercise, drugs, rest, massage, weight management, salves application and learning to cope with the back pain can ease and treat mild back pain.
  • Severe back pain accompanied with fever, redness, inflammation, heat, neurological complications or changes in body activity point towards serious issues like fractures, spine infection and tumors. Prolonged back pain can sometimes cause disabling, so you should get a diagnosis very fast.
  • High fever can indicate that you have a spine infection.

Physical pain brought about by back pain can sometimes be unbearable making sitting, standing or walking a painful activity to undertake. Other aspects of your life might be affected too, such as sleep or your overall mood. Your daily life activities like study or work can also be affected resulting in depression and further anxiety.

Some body pains are fast to detect while others - that are deep under the skin - are difficult to localize. Pains from ailments and infections of tissues i.e. heart, lungs and stomach might come from a specific or multiple places. Intense pain might however be localized, but not most of the time.

Back pain associated with other related complications like fever, redness, inflammation, heat, neurological complications or changes in body activity will have more complicated and sharper diagnosis.    

Milder back aches can be effectively controlled with exercise, drugs, rest, massage, managing your weight, salves application and learning how to cope with the back pain.

Prolonged back pain can sometimes cause disability, so you should get a diagnosis very fast. Simple mild signs might also need a physician’s intervention.

When to see a Doctor for Back Pain

Most back pains are caused by strained muscles and do not require the attention of a physician. They usually require over the counter drugs to relieve the pain. Another method that works great is application of cold or hot packs over the sore section, hence managing the pain quietly. Sleep is also advisable but one shouldn’t rest for more than two days as this might worsen the situation.

Major issues on the other hand such as fractures, spine infection and tumors are more severe and require detailed medical evaluation. It is very important to seek medical attention if you are experiencing back pain, especially as a result of shock from falling down from a very high height. Other symptoms might lead to complications such as aortic aneurysm, heart attack, cancer, abdominal and pelvic inflammation etc.

Patients should visit a doctor if the back pain is accompanied by at least one of the following symptoms:   

  • Night back pains – If the pain is causing you to lose sleep during the night, that should not be taken lightly. This could be an early sign of spinal trauma or cancer.
  • Back pains that go on for more than six weeks – It is advisable to seek a second opinion from a doctor if the back pain exceeds one to two months.
  • Sudden weight loss with back pain – If you are losing too much weight and you haven’t changed your activity level or diet, then you need to visit your doctor to get some tests done. Imaging and blood test should be carried out to check for hormonal disorder or cancer.
  • Past cancer and fresh back pains – If you had suffered from cancer in the past and you are experiencing back pains, this could mean the cancer is spreading to your spine. Visit your doctor for more evaluation.
  • Severe trauma with back pains – Severe trauma like falling from a high height or over the stairs can result in a fracture at the back. Get immediate attention from a physician.
  • Uncontrollable Bowel and Bladder and Back pain – If you are experiencing back pain along with fresh incontinence, you could be having severe back conditions resulting in pressure on the nerve. That requires attention from the doctor.
  • Bad fever and back pain – When fevers get out of control accompanied by a back pain, the most likely cause might be a kidney or back infection. After a thorough examination, your doctor will recommend the appropriate antibiotics to clear the infection.
  • Numbness in leg and back pain – Tingling experienced on your upper inner thighs, buttock, groin or genital area is an indication of nerve irritation or damage. You might have developed herniated disc or spinal stenosis. The doctor might prescribe treatment, medication or a surgical procedure to help reduce exerted pressure to the nerve.

Other things to put into consideration in association to back pain that will ask for the intervention of a doctor are:

  • Back pain in persons who are 20 years and below.
  • Uncontrollable back pain in persons who had been diagnosed or are undergoing cancer treatment.
  • Persons who are suffering from osteoporosis or osteopenia (fragile bones).
  • Persons who are using steroids.
  • Persons with susceptible immune system, for example, HIV.
  • If a certain deformity has been detected in the spine and is developing.
  • Blood detected in urine, possibly irritation when urinating, accompanied with a back pain on one side.

Unexplained Fever with Increasing Back Pain

High fever can indicate that you have an infection. Spine infections escalate especially if the immune system is vulnerable due to HIV or if the infection developed after a spine surgery.

Spinal infection might also develop into epidural abscess where pus fills the area next to your spinal dural sac, causing compression on the nerve and weakening motor skills. Antibiotics can well manage wound infections developed after surgery, but only when treatment starts early. In severe cases, surgery might be needed to drain the pus.

In serious cases, it can cause partial to almost total paralysis. It is advisable to visit a doctor whenever back pain is associated with a fever. 

Individuals with diabetes and poor health conditions are most likely to get infections. Fever, soreness, inflammation may be witnessed around the infected area. Clear discharge that becomes yellow and thick will be seen on the open wound. Good wounds however heal fast and well.

Osteomyelitis, a vertebral body bone contamination, develops when bacteria is transported from other areas of your body to the spine through the veins. Colonoscopy might be the most likely cause of this, through the process performed to the bowel or the urinary tract. This procedure is used when blood is detected in urine or just before prostrate surgery.

Prolonged epidural steroids use (intravenous drugs) for rheumatoid arthritis treatment and extensive dental practices can cause development of vertebral body infection. There is too much risk of bacteria being introduced to your body during the procedure.

Acute, Severe Upper Back Pain

This mostly occurs in people who have osteoporosis. It points out that a vertebral body on the spine is fractured and has collapsed. Although it is painful, it is never that serious. The good thing is that it does not have any neurological effects.

Treatment to relieve the back pain and correction of the abnormality caused after the fracture is usually available. Immediate evaluation through a spine physician is vital. 

While most of the above discussed symptoms might sound alarming, it is most important to keep in mind that not all back pains are harmful and normally get better within a few weeks. If you experience back pain without having any of the above mentioned symptoms, it could be caused by poor lifting techniques that put pressure on the back. After one or two days of rest, ice and maybe heat application, ibuprofen, acetaminophen accompanied by a simple stretch, the back pain will go away on its own. 

All in all, if you are ever in doubt, always consult a doctor about your back pain. The most notable characteristic of back pain is its progressive nature and its non-responsiveness to rest. If you note the above symptoms, go and get a physician’s evaluation.