Healthy Living

When to See Your Doctor About Back Pain

When to See Your Doctor About Back Pain

Key Takeaways

  • Back pain originates in the spine and can manifest in multiple forms.
  • Experiencing a persistent back pain is the first thing that you should observe before seeking medical attention.
  • Seeking medical advice is essential and compulsory for people with chronic back pain.

One of the most common reasons why people visit their doctor is their back pain. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), 8 out of 10 people have some type of back pain. The pain originates in the spine and can manifest in multiple forms. The condition more frequently affects the lower back. However, an upper back pain is somewhat common. Back pain normally subsides on its own with proper rest.

You may experience pain, discomfort, and anxiety, but the probability of it as something serious is rare. However, there are situations where your back pain could be an indication of something serious or even dangerous.

What are the Causes of Back Pain?

Back pain is caused by a variety of factors, some of which can be controlled while others can be otherwise or are unknown. The causes of back pain may include:

  • Bad posture - is a very common cause, especially for lower back pain. Many people have the condition as a result of bad posture when standing, sitting, or walking. Any posture that interferes with the joints and the muscles of the spine can cause back pain. Bad sleeping postures are also known to cause back pain.
  • Injuries - are common factors that cause back pain. In most cases, injuries can take place gradually, without you noticing it. A person may also suffer from immediate injuries such as a slip or fall leading to back pain.
  • Overuse of the back - overuse can be a result of sexual activity or other movements of the spine. Overweight individuals may also develop the condition due to their excess weight resting on their spine joints and discs.
  • Infections - there are different infections that cause back pain. Such infections may include sciatica and arthritis. Arthritis is known to have several types that can lead to back pain.

When you need to see a doctor:

Persistent pain

Experiencing a persistent back pain is the first thing that you should observe before seeking medical attention. In normal cases, back pain is a condition that dissipates in time once people have made changes to their posture and sleeping positions. In the event of persistent pain, visit your doctor immediately.

Other side effects

If your back pain is accompanied by certain problems in other parts of your body, then you should take caution. In some cases, the pain may be brought about by other underlying infections. If in case you're having abdominal pain or problems with your hips, you must visit a doctor as soon as possible.

Numbness in the lower back and buttocks

Back pain may also be accompanied by numbness, where the pain spreads down to the buttocks and causes numbness in areas such as the groin and the thighs.

Bladder incontinence

Bladder incontinence occurs in extreme cases when back pain is accompanied or caused by urinary tract infections. It may lead to the loss of bladder control.

History of an HIV infection

For people who have had a history of infections such as cancer or HIV, they should see a doctor if their back pain persists.

Increasing severity of pain unaffected by position or activity

Call your doctor immediately when your back pain keeps on getting worse and is not affected by your posture or activity. Moreover, you will notice that it gets worse with weight-bearing and at night. You may also notice other symptoms of being unwell. A possible cause of such pain could be cancer.

Tender spot with deep constant pain

The following symptoms warrant a visit to your doctor:

  • you notice that your back pain is associated with a well-defined tender spot that is eventually followed by a deep constant pain
  • a rigid spine that may or may not be associated with fever and illness

Spinal infections may give rise to these symptoms.

Affected bodily functions 

A severe low back pain with the inability to urinate, fecal incontinence, a numb groin, and weak legs indicate that you should be well on your way to consult your doctor. Cauda equina syndrome (CES) is a very serious condition caused by the pinching of the lowest part of the spinal cord. It can cause the above-mentioned symptoms.

Throbbing back pain in sync with pulse

If you notice the above symptoms and if you are a smoker, overweight, diabetic, or have a heart problem, then it goes without mention that a medical consultation is a must. Abdominal aortic aneurysms could be the root cause of this symptom.

Back pain and pregnancy

Back pain may be frequently associated with pregnancy. The pain, while definitely a source of distress, is usually not a sign of any danger to either the mother or baby. However, there are some cases of back pain that are important to get checked out. Keep the lines of communication open with your doctor and if you are concerned about your back pain, don’t be shy to speak with your doctor. You might get some tips on how to relieve your pain and have a reassurance that you're not suffering alone.

Lower back pain and cramping

The following symptoms may or may not indicate spinal stenosis, so if you notice any of these symptoms bothering you, go get it checked:

  • pain in the lower back
  • cramping and heavy feeling in the legs causing difficulty in walking
  • increased pain going downhill 
  • symptoms that get worse with activity

Other factors to watch out for may include:

  • fever
  • chest pain
  • back pain that worsens at night
  • pain resulted from an accident
  • problems in passing urine
  • unexplained weight loss
  • if you are under 18 or over 50 years old
  • had a recent surgical procedure
  • concomitant abdominal pain
  • lightheadedness, weakness, and disorientation
  • back pain with a duration of greater than six weeks

The Bottom Line

Back pain is a condition that can heal within a short period of time. If a persistent pain is felt for a longer period of time, seek medical attention immediately. Basically, the bottom line is that if you sense that your back pain is out of the ordinary, visit your doctor to rule out anything serious. Further tests may be conducted to screen all possible causes. Seeking medical advice is essential and compulsory for people with chronic back pain.