Millions of American adults live with chronic back pain. Many, especially women, accept it as par for the course. They consider it a natural part of the aging process or a byproduct of a hectic lifestyle.
Yet, some symptoms jump up and scream, “pay attention,” and for good reason. Pain can sometimes indicate a severe underlying disorder, something other than achy muscles.
If you experience any of the seven signs below, it may be a sign to see a doctor for back pain.
1. Your Pain Originated With a Fall
When did your back pain start? If it first occurred after you fell (like maybe off a ladder), head to the emergency room. Sudden jolts can crack or even shatter your vertebrae. And a broken spine can leave you paralyzed if left untreated.
If you don’t break a vertebra, you could strain or sprain your back. You’ll need to take it easy and rest to speed up the recovery process. Returning to work too quickly can compound the injury.
2. You Lose Feeling in Your Legs
You can lose feeling in your legs if you sit in the wrong position. However, if this loss of sensation accompanies back pain, it could indicate damage to the spinal cord.
Your doctor can determine if treatments like physical therapy or a brace can restore normal functioning. Avoid trying to drive yourself to the ER. Have a friend drive, or use a ride-sharing app if your insurance doesn’t cover an ambulance.
3. You Have a High Fever
Sometimes, a fever with back pain can indicate a severe illness. Pyelonephritis, or a kidney infection, can result from bacteria traveling up the urethra to your organs. Doctors can treat this condition with antibiotics. However, if left untreated, you could experience kidney damage or sepsis.
If you’ve had an epidural, you can occasionally develop an abscess at the site. This condition can also result in fever and require medical care.
4. You Experience Numbness
If you have numbness or tingling in your legs along with back pain, you could have spinal stenosis. This is known as peripheral neuropathy. You could also have pressure on your spinal cord from an injury. This symptom requires evaluation by a physician.
Spinal stenosis occurs when your spinal column tightens around the spinal cord. Usually, sitting down in a chair will relieve uncomfortable sensations in your legs. When you stand up or walk around, however, the tingling will likely return.
5. You Have Difficulty Urinating
Difficulty urinating can indicate nerve damage when accompanied by back pain. This problem requires a doctor’s evaluation because several conditions can cause problems emptying the bladder.
Often, patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) develop bladder difficulties as a symptom of their disease. This disorder impacts the nerves, including those running to this organ.
6. Your Pain Spreads to Other Areas
If your pain radiates to other areas of the body, several factors could influence it. Sometimes, your nerves get their wires crossed—you injure yourself in one area, but the pain spreads.
Phantom lower back pain often occurs in those with a retroverted uterus, a variation found in 25% of women in the world. However, it can also arise due to more threatening conditions.
7. Your Pain Lasts Longer Than 10 Days
If your back pain continues for more than 10 days, you should call your doctor for a checkup. Your pain might originate from a structural disorder of your spine that a brace or surgery could correct.
It could also result from a degenerative disease such as ankylosing spondylitis. Medications can treat this condition and help stem the tide of disintegration.
See Your Doctor if You Show These Signs
Some people experience back pain on a near-daily basis. Perhaps you have poor posture or you stoop over at your desk, in which case back pain may be normal. However, the symptoms above indicate something else may be wrong.
If you notice anything from loss of feeling in your legs to difficulty urinating, contact your physician immediately.
How do you tell when to see a doctor for back pain?
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What questions do you have about when to see a doctor for back pain?
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