When does that aching pain in your back become too much for you to handle alone? Several experts agree that if you have any of the following symptoms along with back pain, you should skip the home remedies in favor of in-office treatment.
When doctors diagnose low back pain, there are several red flags they look for. Detecting fractures, tumors, or infections in the spine is the goal of these warning signs. The moment you experience any of these red flags as well as back pain, you should reach out to your doctor.
Backaches and tightness may be just the flu, but an unresponsive fever and back pain may signal a serious infection. Dr. Richard Guyer, founder of the Texas Back Institute and an Associate Clinical Professor of Orthopaedics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, says this is indicative of a systemic issue.
The doctor will want to examine your back pain if you have had a serious trauma — such as a car accident or a fall from a height– or if you have had a relatively minor trauma and you are over 50 years old. As you get older, even a simple fall can cause you to fracture a bone.
Numbness or Tingling
It might be tempting to think that you can treat numbness or prickly tingling with over-the-counter medication, but these symptoms are usually indicative of nerve damage or irritation and are clinically more serious than your typical pain. If that pins-and-needles feeling won’t go away, you may have spinal issues, as well as a herniated disc and spinal stenosis. The effects of nerve damage and irritation can lead to permanent disability if not treated.
Loss of Bowel or Bladder Function
When back pain is combined with the loss of bowel or bladder control, it could be a sign of a rare, but serious illness called cauda equina syndrome. In this condition, the nerve roots in the lower end of the spine are compressed and paralyzed. An injured spine can become painful due to a herniated disk, a fracture, a tumor, spinal stenosis, or trauma. Leg numbness and weakness are possible symptoms that develop over time. This is an emergency medical condition that needs immediate attention.
Walking with your toes dragged along the ground or having to lift your foot higher to compensate may indicate foot drop, says Sinett, a condition that can be accompanied by back pain. When the foot drops when walking, it indicates either a nerve problem (damage to the fibers that control the muscle movement) or a muscle problem.
Unexplained Weight Loss
The cause of your back pain may be infectious disease or tumors if you have suddenly lost weight without explanation.
An Extended Period of Pain (6+ Weeks)
In 90% of cases of back pain, the pain gets better within six weeks, but if your pain persists after six weeks, your doctor will want to look for more serious underlying causes.