How to Know if Your Back Pain is Serious

Lower Back PainThe vast majority of people experience some type of back pain at least once in their lives. In fact, lower back pain is one of the most common ailments that cause people to seek medical help. While it may definitely hurt, almost all cases of back pain are caused by things like pulled muscles that come about after lifting heavy objects, and these will go away on their own without the need to go to the doctor. However, it is very important for people who are experiencing pain in their back to know when they need to seek medical help.

People’s bodies are rather good at being able to locate the source of pain when it is close to the surface. However, the same is not true when the pain stems from something deeper inside, and this is where most causes of back pain come from. Knowing when to see a doctor can make a big difference in helping people get the medical attention that they need when back pain is serious.

Combinations of Back Pain Symptoms That Should Be Investigated

In general, just having back pain for a day or two is not enough to justify a trip to the doctor. Severe back pain problems usually involve a combination of symptoms.

Uncontrolled Bladder and Bowels and Progressing Weakness in the Legs

Cauda equina syndrome is a relatively rare yet very serious condition that can trigger back pain. If it is not treated, the syndrome can result in losing any sensation in all areas below the lower spinal region and may ultimately result in the individual becoming paralyzed. The condition can be caused by an infection, spinal conditions that compress the lumbar nerves or any sort of trauma to the spine.

There are a number of symptoms that accompany Cauda equina syndrome. These include difficulty walking due to weakness, numbness or pain in one or both of the legs, not being able to control the bowels or bladder that results in incontinence or retention, altered or lost sensation in the parts of your body that would sit in a saddle and problems in the legs and feet that include numbness, progressive or severe weakness or altered sensation. Anyone who is has these symptoms should seek medical attention immediately.

Abdominal Pain with Acute Back Pain

Abdominal PainAn abdominal aortic aneurysm involves tearing in the large artery in the abdomen called the aorta, and it generally presents with sudden lower back pain that does not result from an obvious source or injury that is related to spine or back movement. It is imperative that a person goes to the hospital right away if they are experiencing these symptoms as the major bleeding that occurs if the aorta ruptures can potentially be fatal. Early symptoms of this condition include pain in the abdomen and lower back that is so severe that people are unable to stand up straight. This is generally a crushing and sharp pain that is felt in the abdomen or lower back.

Neurological Impairment with Major Weight Loss

People should go to the doctor if they experience back pain in conjunction with depression, a loss of appetite for even the foods that they enjoy most or weight loss of about five pounds or more over a period of several weeks. This could potentially indicate a very serious condition like cancer or a tumor.

Tumors that are located around or in the spine can create a number of symptoms that include unintended weight loss along with vomiting and nausea and back pain that becomes worse at night and can be so bad that it will wake people up. In addition, neurological issues like changes in normal bladder and bowel habits and numbness or weakness in the toes, legs, fingers or arms accompanied by back or neck pain may indicate a tumor. Individuals who experience these symptoms will need to take a number of steps in determining the root cause of the issue that include blood tests, scan or X-ray imaging and being evaluated by a physician.

Upper Back Pain That Is Both Severe and Acute

While it generally does not have any accompanying neurological effects, collapsed and fractured vertebral bodies in the spine generally present with sudden, severe upper back pain, and this is a particular concern in individuals who have osteoporosis. These kinds of spinal fractures are often very painful, but they are not exactly a real emergency. However, people who experience them are often in so much pain that they believe they are suffering from something much more severe. It is important that people who have these symptoms see their doctor right away. Luckily, there are treatments available to help correct any kind of deformity that the fracture may cause and manage the pain.

Increasing Back Pain with Unexplained Fever

A fever is one indication of infection in the body, and infections in the spine generally occur after a person has had spinal surgery or if their immune system is weakened by a condition like HIV. There are a number of things that can lead to infections in the vertebrae including extensive dental work, using epidural steroids for long periods of time to treat things like arthritis and intravenous drug use.

Bone infections in the vertebral body are usually caused by bacteria being transported through the veins from other parts of the body to the spine. They can also result come from procedures like a cystoscopy or colonoscopy that are performed on the urinary tract or bowel.

While it may be relatively rare, infections in the spine can create an epidural abscess. These are located either near or at the spinal dural sac and are essentially deep pockets filled with pus. An epidural abscess can impair motor skills by pressing on nerve structures and may result in near total or partial paralysis in some extreme cases. With this, it is imperative to be evaluated by a doctor right away when a person experiences back pain in combination with a severe fever.

While the pus may need to be drained surgically in some cases, the vast majority of infections that stem from wounds after spinal surgery can be treated with antibiotics when caught early. Proper wound care will usually result in a positive outcome for individuals who have spinal surgery. When pus needs to be drained, it is generally because patients are in poor health or have diabetes. When a wound is not closing properly, people often experience a fever along with discharge that starts out clear and gradually becomes thick and yellow. In addition, swelling and redness is often seen around wounds that are not healing correctly, and patients will often be in pain.

Other Reasons to Visit a Back Pain Specialist

Back Pain SpecialistWhile the amount of back pain that a person experiences is not necessarily a a clear indicator of how severe their problems are, there are a number of circumstances when individuals should have a doctor evaluate them. These include tingling, numbness and weakness in the arms or legs that could stem from neurological issues. Individuals should also seek medical attention if they are experiencing numbness in the genital or buttock area, groin or upper thighs or if they have back pain that is accompanied by abdominal pain.

Rest will alleviate almost all common types of back pain, and people should see a doctor if their pain gets worse at night. This is particularly true if the pain is so severe that it wakes people up from a deep sleep. Other indications that a person should seek medical help include severe pain that persists for several days after using common remedies like over the counter pain relievers, ice and rest, constant pain that continues to get worse and pain that results from a back injury after a fall.

People should also seek medical attention if they experience one-sided back pain along with burning during urination and blood in the urine, have or are developing an obvious spinal deformity, have a weakened immune system, are taking steroids or have weakened bones from osteopenia or osteoporosis. They should also see a doctor if they have persistent back pain and are currently receiving treatment for cancer or have in the past. In addition, people under the age of 20 who have persistent back pain should talk to their doctor about it.


It can sometimes be very difficult to tell if a person’s back pain is serious or not. This is why individuals who are experiencing pain should pay close attention to their symptoms and act accordingly. While it may not make much sense for a person to go to the doctor if they have a sore back for a few days after some physical exertion, they should definitely do so if they are experiencing any of the symptoms or combinations of symptoms mentioned. In addition, people who regularly go to a chiropractor should mention any neck pain or chronic back pain as these professionals are trained to make appropriate referrals if they are not able to help alleviate symptoms themselves.

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