When Is Your Back Pain Cause for Concern?

Approximately 80% of adults can expect to experience some level of back pain in their lives. Back pain is so common that many patients ignore it for days or weeks before seeking help. However, there are serious conditions that can cause back pain, and knowing when to have your back checked out could prevent serious injury or even save your life.  

Dr. Nameer Haider of Cell Bionics Institute has two offices: in Sterling, Virginia and Utica, New York. He has assembled this list of potentially serious conditions associated with back pain symptoms to help you know when you should be concerned.

Different types of back pain

In most cases, back pain can be associated with a specific activity. You lifted something heavy, or twisted the wrong way, and the result is an ache that ice and over-the-counter meds handle easily. Within 72 hours, your pain should subside if it's a minor strain or a muscle spasm.

When back pain gradually shows up and gets constantly worse, comes on suddenly and takes your breath away, or won't go away for as long as four weeks after a seemingly minor back injury, it's time to talk to your doctor. 

When you should be concerned about back pain

These red flags could be a sign of a serious back injury or other concerning condition. If you suffer from the following symptoms, you could be having a medical emergency.

Sharp, persistent pain

If your back pain is more like a knife stab than an ache, and you hurt terribly even if you’re lying perfectly still, you could have a torn muscle, a damaged ligament, or even an internal organ in trouble. If the pain is low and to the side of your spine, it could be from the kidney. Pain in the center of your spine could be a herniated disc.

Radiating, shooting pain

Pain that goes from your spine or hips down your legs is a sign of nerve compression. If this is accompanied by numbness or a burning sensation, or you can't feel your buttocks, you could have damage to or compression of the nerves in your lower spine. 

Pain plus leg weakness

Sudden weakness in the legs is usually another sign of compressed nerves in the spine, which could be caused by sciatica or spinal stenosis. Sudden leg weakness is a marker for stroke, however, so make sure you check for other stroke warning signs like speech slurring or facial drooping.

Pain plus incontinence and/or numbness

Back pain accompanied by incontinence can be caused by infection inside your spine or discs. If you have back pain and numbness or "pins and needles" in addition to suddenly losing bladder or bowel control, it could be caused by damage to the "horse's tail," also known as cauda equina. This bundle of nerves at the base of your spine can cause partial paralysis if severely compressed, so this would be a medical emergency.

Sudden severe back and chest pain

Back pain can be an early sign of an aortic dissection, where the inner lining of the aorta tears. If you have back pain and chest pain that feel like you’re being torn apart or your insides are being shredded, seek medical help immediately. 

If you’re worried about your back pain but it’s not a medical emergency, get in touch with us at Cell Bionics Institute. Call the location closest to you, or book an appointment online.

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