8 Red Flags To Seek Medical Attention Immediately For Back Pain
Approximately 80 percent of adults experience back pain at some point in their life. Often missed are other symptoms that could point to the source of the pain or worse, that the pain could be a symptom of a life altering condition.
Could your pain be a symptom of a serious health risk?
There is a fog that clouds a treatment room, a blind spot that can leave both the client and therapist without relevant information. Those blind spots are your symptoms.
Often times, pain can be discounted as a symptom. Pain is a broad term and it can range from a dull and constant ache to a sudden burning or sharp sensation. Not only are there different types of pain, but it can occur in many locations within the back. Providing the details of your back pain to your therapist could mean a difference in diagnosis.
But then, other symptoms might not be accounted for. Check in with the rest of your body and know that there could be a connection. Ask yourself if you’ve been experiencing other unusual sensations or feelings, even if they are not in your back. Pain in your neck? A tight knee? Maybe you’ve even have a fever, loss of feeling, or depression?
Without providing your therapist all of the relevant information you can feel, we could be driving with blinders on, attempting to cure only a symptom, not the root problem. That’s why we like to ask. It’s like gardening. If we continue to just cut the weeds (temporarily fixing the problem), they’ll keep growing back. We have to pull them up by the root.
Why Back Pain Can Mean So Many Things
You may find yourself asking how there can be such a wide range in pain levels, locations and associated symptoms. Let us explain. The back is a very large area made up of many different parts that connect or contribute to your body’s function as a whole. For example, the back includes:
● “The Spine”
○ 7 Cervical Vertebrae – consists of the neck (C1 to C7)
○ 12 Thoracic Vertebrae – consists of the thorax (T1 to T12)
○ 5 Lumbar Vertebrae – consists of the lower back above the pelvis (L1 to L5)
● “Spinal Nerves” (31 pairs)
○ 8 cervical
○ 12 thoracic
○ 5 lumbar
○ 5 sacral
○ 1 coccygeal
● “The Muscles”
○ Intertransversarii muscle – supports movement between the individual vertebrae
○ The multifidus spinae – supports movement of the spine as a whole.
As you can see, there are many places or parts that can be injured or out of place. All these pieces are vital for your normal functioning and none should be discounted. Just like your dishwasher, when one small part goes awry, the entire system seems to stop working.
Considering back pain can be so complex, what do you actually need to look out for?
8 Symptoms to Seek Medical Help
1. If you’ve experienced major trauma
Anytime you experience a major accident resulting in immense pain, it’s wise to seek medical attention. Depending on where your pain falls and the type of trauma you experienced, there may be more going on inside you than you can see without further testing. A major trauma could be anything from an auto accident, sports injury, or even falling down the steps.
2. If you experience weakness or numbness in your lower extremities
This is your body’s way of waving one of those red flags, letting you know that something is not able to work like it’s supposed to. Conditions that cause weakness and numbness are often indicators of nerve damage or impairment. Allowing a compressed nerve to go untreated could cause permanent damage to the region, even partial paralysis.
3. If your back pain is accompanied by a fever
Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe you have a cold. Or maybe it’s a spinal infection. While infections of the spine are rare, a fever is a sign that there is something deeper going on. Whenever a fever is present, all other symptoms should be taken into account, including back pain.
4. If you experience loss of bowel or bladder function
Loss of muscle control is a major red flag. The inability to control your bowel or bladder when coupled with back pain could be the result of a temporary paralysis due to compressed nerves. On top of being a serious sign that your body is in distress, these symptoms can also be embarrassing and completely inconvenient to everyday life resulting in emotional trauma. These conditions should be taken seriously and not discounted as a sign of aging.
5. If you experience trouble walking
The inability to walk, a basic and necessary human activity, is a serious matter. Not only will it inhibit your life, but it will affect your health too. If you’re unable to walk because of ongoing back pain, you could experience muscular atrophy (muscle loss) and unnecessary weight gain that could cause your original condition to become worse or add a new set of problems altogether.
6. If you are unable to bend, sit, or lay flat
The inability to move your torso or have it in a stationary position without pain might also indicate a larger issue. Any loss of mobility that you had before the pain might point to nerve damage or impairment. This might also be a sign that there is an injury to the vertebrae in your spine. Without the ability to perform these movements, additional problems might occur such as loss of sleep, missing days at work, and let’s not forget, your sanity.
7. If the pain is unbearable
Remember not to discount your own knowledge of how your body feels. You are the only one that knows how “normal you” feels. If the pain is just simply too intense for you to concentrate, move or complete your day-to-day activities, it doesn’t hurt to visit your therapist. It may be something that will need to heal on its own, but it might also be something requiring further medical treatment or therapy.
8. If your back pain is causing depression
There is a close correlation between depression and chronic pain. And why wouldn’t there be? Living with such pain day in and day out, leaving you unable to connect with the ones you love, complete work, or enjoy recreational activities that once brought you joy would make miserable. It can feel as though it consumes your life. Finding out what you can do to relieve the pain, and support your mental health, to get back to your life is your best bet for success.
There are many of us who try to play the tough card and think “Oh, it will clear up on it’s own.” But remember it doesn’t hurt to know the cause of any pain, back or otherwise, especially if it’s accompanied by other symptoms, was a result from major trauma, or lasts longer than a couple weeks.
Not only will you know what’s causing your pain, but you’ll be able to take a proactive and positive approach to relieving yourself of that pain and regaining your life. As the cliché goes, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Now you know that there are many factors that go into determining what the issue is and if you need professional help. First, take the time to really evaluate your body. Notice if there is anything more than back pain going on. Then ask! When you come to see us, ask if the symptoms are or could be related.
To your pain free life,