If you’re experiencing back pain, you’re not alone. Around 80 percent of adult individuals have low back pain during their lifetime. It’s the leading cause of job-related disability and the primary contributor to missing days of work.
You can experience back pain from:
- A fall
- An accident
- Changes that occur in your spine as you age
- Lifting something heavy
- A medical condition or disorder
Usually, your pain will go away over time. However, if the pain in your back doesn’t improve or becomes severe, you may require medical care. This guide will discuss when you should seek medical attention for back pain, what symptoms to look for and what doctor to see.
How Do I Know My Back Pain Is Serious?
Whether your back pain is intermittent, piercing or achy and constant, you’re probably wondering if it should be a cause for concern. However, the severity of your symptoms isn’t the only indicator of whether your back pain is serious.
For instance, you can experience intense pain from a pulled back muscle — but this will usually go away after several days of treating it at home. But, with something like lumbar degenerative disc disease, you can experience a dull, moderate ache in your back, which won’t necessarily be intense but could become worse over time if left untreated. In this case, you’d want to see a doctor to discuss a long-term treatment plan.
If you’re experiencing back pain, you should consider seeing a doctor if you have recently or are currently experiencing:
A High Fever
A fever associated with serious back pain isn’t the same as a fever you’d experience with a virus such as the flu, where you’d probably experience all-over body aches, especially in your back and neck. Instead, this type of fever will go along with back pain predominantly. When this occurs, the fever is often a response to some form of infection that requires medical care.
Limb Tingling or Numbness
Some individuals describe this feeling like a “pins and needles” sensation, while others describe it as a total loss of feeling. Either way, it typically signals a problem with your nerves in the affected area of your neck or back. Various conditions can lead to tingling and numbness in your limbs, including:
- A herniated disc
- Spinal stenosis
- Failed back syndrome
These all require medical treatment from a spine specialist, since prolonged nerve irritation could lead to permanent damage, and sometimes even disability down the road.
A Traumatic Event
You should seek medical attention if you’re experiencing any pain due to:
- A car accident
- Trauma to your body
- An assault
- A fall
You shouldn’t shrug off pain from these types of situations. From vertebral fractures to spinal cord lacerations, a traumatic event could cause spinal damage, even if you can get up and walk immediately after the trauma.
Many people who live with unresolved, persistent back pain learn how to live with the pain. But, if you’re experiencing pain in your neck, spine or back that doesn’t go away in six to two weeks by itself, you should make an appointment with a spine specialist to find the cause and hopefully resolve it.
Pain in the back associated with a loss of function in your bowel or bladder is definitely serious, and you shouldn’t ignore it. Certain disorders can result in incontinence because the nerve compression in your spine travels down to and affects the organs that control your bowel and bladder function.
Loss of continence isn’t always sudden and can occur over time when there’s spinal nerve involvement. Therefore, if you notice a decline in your bowel or bladder function accompanying your back pain, it’s important you see a doctor as soon as possible.
When to Seek Medical Attention for Back Pain
It can be difficult to know when to go to the doctor for back pain. Generally, there are two major indicators of when it’s time to visit a doctor:
1. If your back pain doesn’t go away after a week or two, you should see your doctor. While it’s more likely your pain isn’t a sign of a serious medical emergency, your doctor can give you an accurate diagnosis and start treatment.
2. If you have other symptoms that accompany your back pain, you might require medical attention. See your doctor immediately if you’re experiencing back pain with symptoms like:
- A high fever
- Increasing weakness in your legs
- Severe stomach pain
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
What Symptoms Associated With Back Pain Should Prompt You to See a Doctor?
When you can identify and describe your symptoms to your doctor, it can help them arrive at a more accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment plan. Back pain often goes along with a combination of symptoms, including:
Aching, Dull Pain
Pain that persists in your lower back, also known as axial pain, is typically described as aching and dull instead of stinging, burning or sharp. This type of pain could come with:
- Limited mobility
- Severe or mild muscle spasms
- Aches in your pelvis and hips
Worsened Pain After Prolonged Sitting
When you sit, you put pressure on your discs. If you’ve been sitting for a long period of time, it can cause your back pain to become worse. Stretching and walking can ease back pain, but the symptoms could come back if you return to a sitting position.
Pain that Travels to Your Legs, Buttocks and Feet
In some cases, back pain includes a stinging, sharp, numb or tingling sensation that radiates down your thighs into your feet and lower legs. This is referred to as sciatica and is caused by sciatic nerve irritation.
Improvement of Pain When You Change Positions
Depending on what is causing your pain, you may find certain positions more comfortable than others. For instance, it may be painful and difficult to walk normally with spinal stenosis, but if you were to lean forward onto something, it could decrease the pain.
What Doctor Should I See for Back Pain?
There are several types of healthcare providers who specialize in back pain, such as:
Primary Care Doctors
Primary care doctors are usually the first provider patients call when they experience back pain. They typically include:
- Primary care physicians (pediatricians and Family practice doctors)
- Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine
Spine specialists are more specialized in back pain and spinal conditions. They typically include:
- Orthopedic Spine Surgeon and Neurosurgeon
- Pain Management
Therapists are specialized in either occupational or physical back pain rehabilitation or psychological help for chronic pain. They typically include:
- Physical therapists
- Clinical psychologists
- Occupational therapists
Determining who you should see for back pain treatment will depend on the severity and symptoms of your back pain.
Find Relief from Back Pain at the International Spine Institute
At the International Spine Institute, Dr. Marco A. Rodriguez, MD, provides the least invasive treatment approach for patients with back pain. He’s a leader in Endoscopic Spine Surgery and Least Invasive Spine Surgery.
At the International Spine Institute, we realize patients are looking for compassionate and convenient care that provides them with symptom relief and enhanced life. If you’re not sure when to see a doctor for back pain, call us with any questions or schedule an appointment with Dr. Rodriguez for a consultation.