Table of Contents
Back pain is a common complaint. It can be acute, which means it comes on suddenly and lasts for about three months. Acute back pain is one of the most common reasons for missed work days in the U.S. It can also be chronic, meaning it persists for more than three months. Chronic back pain may result from a combination of both physical and psychological factors and can affect quality of life. If you are suffering from back pain, you may be wondering if your symptoms are serious enough to see a doctor or whether they will go away over time. Read on to learn more about how to understand the severity of your symptoms and when you should seek professional medical attention if they do not subside over time or worsen despite treatment.
Back pain can be a symptom of many different conditions and diseases.
If you’re experiencing back pain, it could be because of a number of conditions. These include:
- Muscle strain
- Spinal disc herniation
- Arthritis (osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis)
- Injury to the vertebrae or spinal ligaments (vertebral fractures and spinal dislocations)
- Osteoporosis (thinning of your bones)
The spine is made up of vertebrae that are separated by gel-filled cushions (the intervertebral discs).
The spine is made up of the vertebrae, which are separated by gel-filled cushions called intervertebral discs. The discs are made of a tough outer layer and a soft inner layer that works like a shock absorber to cushion your spine as you move.
If you have back pain, it’s easy to assume your problem is caused by one thing—like sitting at the computer or lifting something heavy. In reality, there are many different causes of back pain:
Acute back pain usually lasts less than three months.
Acute back pain is typically defined as pain that lasts less than three months. So, if your back pain has been going on for more than three months, it’s not acute anymore—it’s chronic. Acute back pain can be caused by many different things that have nothing to do with serious conditions or diseases. For example:
- Injury from lifting something heavy
- Stress from work or school
- Poor posture at home or in the car (sitting up straight!)
Recurring back pain requires a more thorough evaluation
If you’re experiencing recurring back pain, it’s important to visit your doctor. This is because there are a few different treatments available for this type of condition.
Recurring back pain also means that you’re at an increased risk for other issues related to the spine, such as spinal stenosis or degenerative disc disease. These conditions can be very serious and require more advanced treatment than what we’ve discussed so far—so please consult a medical professional if your condition appears serious!
As always, if your symptoms become worse in any way (including: more severe pain; numbness or tingling in arms/legs; difficulty standing up straight), pay attention and see a doctor immediately!
A doctor performs a physical examination to check for signs of nerve damage or weakness.
You’re probably doing some things right if you have back pain.
This is because the obvious signs of a serious condition are not always apparent, and if they are, it can take time to diagnose them. Because of this, doctors rely on a combination of factors—including your medical history and physical examination—to assess whether something more serious is going on with your spine or nervous system (neurological conditions).
For example: A doctor performs a physical examination to check for signs of nerve damage or weakness. They also look at your posture, gait and balance; bowel and bladder control; sensation in your legs (both sides); strength in different parts of the body; reflexes; coordination between arms and legs; sensation between thumb and forefinger on both hands; pins-and-needles sensation in hands when moving arms up over head (also called “jaw claudication”); tingling in hands when moving them from side to side; loss of heat/cold sensation from one side of face compared with other side (unilateral facial hypoesthesia); changes in muscle tone around shoulders when doing arm raises overhead with eyes closed versus open eyes (this is known as an upper motor neuron sign).
Back pain can have an effect on your bladder or bowel control.
If you have back pain, you may have a loss of sensation in your lower body. This can lead to problems with bladder and bowel control. For example, if you have back pain, it could be hard for you to feel when your bladder is full and as a result, you may leak urine while coughing or sneezing.
Similarly, if the nerves that tell us we need to go pee are damaged from severe back pain then we might not be able to hold our bladders long enough for our bodies to complete all their business at once resulting in urinary incontinence (leaking urine).
On top of this there’s also an increased risk for constipation because having constipation makes it harder for us to pass gas which means more pressure builds up in our bowels causing them shrink which then makes us feel full quicker but also harder for food waste matter exit from our bodies leading towards a clogged colon full of feces making things even worse!
If the cause of back pain is not clear, imaging tests may be used.
Imaging tests are used to identify underlying causes of back pain. These include X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and computed tomography (CT) scans. Imaging tests are not always necessary and can be expensive. They may also expose you to radiation which can cause cancer, so they must be used sparingly and only after other options have been exhausted.
Imaging tests can show the location of your pain by identifying any possible abnormalities in your muscles, joints or bones that may be causing it.
There are many treatments available to relieve back pain.
- Exercise. Most people can benefit from regular exercise, which helps improve flexibility and strength in the lower back. Your doctor or physical therapist will suggest a safe exercise program for you.
- Heat and ice. Applying heat to painful muscles can help relax them, while cold packs may reduce swelling in the area by constricting blood vessels and limiting inflammation. However, it’s important to know that too much heat can cause injury to tissues if used incorrectly so don’t apply it directly on the skin! You should use ice packs instead since these are safer because they contain fewer bacteria than hot water bottles or heating pads (which can also burn you).
- Medication. Your doctor may prescribe medication such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen sodium (Aleve). These medications relieve both pain and inflammation but have side effects such as nausea; stomach upset; dizziness; diarrhea; bleeding problems when taking aspirin-containing products with warfarin anticoagulant medications like Coumadin®or Jantoven® Warfarin Sodium Tablets USP
Most people with back pain experience an improvement in symptoms within one to three weeks.
If you have been experiencing back pain for more than three weeks, it’s time to seek a medical opinion. If your pain is not improving, or is getting worse and you are not better, see a doctor.
See a doctor if your back pain does not improve over time, or if it worsens despite treatment.
- If your back pain does not improve over time, or if it worsens despite treatment, see a doctor.
- If you have severe back pain, see a doctor.
- If you have severe back pain and it does not improve after two weeks of home treatment, see a doctor.
Back pain can be a symptom of many different conditions and diseases. If you have been experiencing back pain for longer than three months, it is important to visit a doctor. You may need imaging tests or other diagnostic procedures to identify the cause of your back pain. The most common treatments for chronic back pain are physical therapy and medication. Your doctor may also recommend surgery if other treatments do not provide relief.