Back pain is a horrible thing. There’s just no other way to describe it. Since the physical movements you do on a daily basis require a healthy, cooperative back, when one small thing is not working properly, everything hurts.
But what if that small thing is actually a symptom of something worse like a bulging or herniated disc or Degenerative Disc Disease? How can you tell?
Today we’re chatting about 5 telling signs – in no particular order – that your back pain may be more serious that just typical muscle aches or pain.
#1 – Constant nerve pain
One of the things I first noticed when I started having back pain was tingling, burning and numbness in my left leg and foot. It happened slowly and by the time I realized it was a problem, there wasn’t anything I could do to ease it. The nerve pain was constant, but the sensations would change. Sometimes it felt like something was crawling on my leg or I would feel sharp pin pricks.
The more I tried to move and around and do physical activities, the more numb my foot would become. Due to this type of nerve pain, it was impossible to get in a comfortable position that would alleviate it. Within a month, my nerve impingement began to affect the whole left side of my body until I was unable to walk.
#2 – Failing physical tests
When I started seeking medical help, two different doctors asked me to do this test two different times after my initial injury. They asked me to stand on my toes and then stand on my heels.
According to Chirobase.org, “The patient’s inability to toe walk (calf muscles, mostly S1 nerve root), heel walk (ankle and toe dorsiflexor muscles, L5 and some L4 nerve roots), or do a single squat and rise (quadriceps muscles, mostly L4 nerve root) may indicate muscle weakness. Specific testing of the dorsiflexor muscles of the ankle or great toe (suggestive of L5 or some L4 nerve root dysfunction), hamstrings and ankle evertors (L5-S1), and toe flexors (S1) is also important.”
Evidently many people with a herniated disc can do one position, but not both. For whatever reason, I could pass this test, as well as many other tests for lumbar nerve root compression. For me, it further confused my diagnosis and treatment plan prior to getting my MRI results.
#3 – Your mobility goes away
If you’re suffering from a herniated disc or a bulging disc, chances are you’re mobility just keeps getting worse with time. If you’ve had to limit your normal day-to-day activities for more than 4 weeks, it’s time to see a doctor. Perhaps you can’t bend down to put on a sock anymore or sneezing is the most painful thing in the world. Without physical therapy or a treatment plan to take pressure off of your spinal column, your injury will keep getting worse, especially if you have a compressed nerve.
#4 – But your back doesn’t hurt
This sounds strange, but throughout most of my ordeal with a herniated L5, my lower back didn’t hurt. The pain was everywhere else. It was difficult for me to believe the source of my pain was emanating from my back. Since everybody is different, this can vary from person to person. I’ve chatted with other people who have herniated discs and they’ve don’t experience literal back pain either.
#5 – Relief is temporary at best
I finally knew I was suffering from nerve pain when my doctor prescribed muscle relaxers. I took them twice hoping (and praying) for relief, but the pills did nothing. It was devastating. When I did physical therapy, I got some relief, but it was only temporary. My symptoms would ease up for 24-48 hours, but they’d come back with a vengeance. When the pain was at its worst, Ibuprofen didn’t help. It was a vicious cycle of being trapped in chronic pain with no escape.
When you must call 911
There is one serious symptom that could occur with back pain and if it does, you need to call 911 and immediately seek medical care. If you’ve been experiencing chronic back pain and you suddenly lose control of your bowels or bladder, that could indicate a severed spinal cord. The only reason I know this is because when I herniated my L5 in 2014, I asked my physical therapist if anything worse could happen to me that would send me to the hospital – I had been in chronic, debilitating pain for months. That was his answer and I’ll never forget it.
Do you have a herniated disc or Degenerative Disc Disease? If so, what was your back pain sign that made you go “uh-oh, this is serious.” Share your story with us in the comments section.