Got back pain? If so, you aren’t alone: 31 million Americans experience low-back pain at any given time, reports the American Chiropractic Association, and it is the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Back pain causes and intensities are all across the board, but some symptoms should not be ignored.
"If you have tried everything you know and you are still uncomfortable and your back pain is affecting your daily life, your attitude or your quality of life then you should talk to someone," says Ryan Church, doctor of nursing practice at MountainStar Comprehensive Spine Centers. "Primary care doctors are well trained in early intervention but beyond that they often rely on the specialist for additional consultation."
Beat back pain and prevent chronic issues by watching out for these five signs that your situation is serious.
Pain involves numbness, tingling or weakness
"If you have numbness, tingling, weakness or loss of function in one of your limbs, severe pain that does not seem to go away or if you have questions or concerns, this is a good time to come and see us," Church explains. These signs can mean you have damage or injury to your spinal cord.
Spinal cord dysfunction is typically caused by compression to the nerves. To avoid permanent loss of neurological function, you need immediate treatment, according to MedScape.
Pain stretches down the back of your leg
While pinpointing the exact cause of back pain can be tricky, back pain that stretches down along the back of the leg can be a sign of a more serious symptom called sciatica.
Sciatica involves inflammation of the sciatic nerve. It can be quite painful since your sciatic nerve is the largest of the human body, according to U.S News and World Report.
Because the nerve extends over such a large area of your body, many people — up to 40 percent — will combat it at least once, reports Medical News Today. What is the main cause of sciatica? A compressed nerve of the lower spine.
Pain surges when you bend or cough
Back pain that seems to increase when you cough or bend at the waist is often an indicator of a herniated disc, according to the Mayo Clinic. Most herniated discs occur in the regions of your lower back but can shoot pain through your arms and legs, making it difficult to identify the trigger spot.
Herniated discs result from compression of the intervertebral discs, causing them to swell outward (herniation) or rupture, reports the National Institutes of Health.
Wondering how this condition may have occurred? It may not have been an isolated event. Slipped or herniated discs are a common source of back pain because the discs deteriorate over time.
Pain is coupled with fever or changes in urination
As if back pain weren’t enough to deal with on its own, some back pain can actually be a sign that you have an underlying infection. If you exhibit symptoms of fever, burning during urination or frequent urination, you may have an infection.
Spinal and kidney infections can all manifest with back pain, as well as the above symptoms, according to Medical News Today. Seek medical help as soon as you can to prevent more serious complications and to start an antibiotic if needed.
Pain is accompanied by bladder or bowel control issues
Some spinal conditions, such as spinal stenosis, disc herniation or cauda equina syndrome, not only cause lower back pain, but also problems with bladder or bowel control. Spinal infections, severe spinal injuries or broken vertebrae have also been linked to these issues, according to WebMd.
If you have any of symptoms above — especially the loss of bowel/bladder control — immediate medical help is vital.
Other factors to consider with back pain
While the five above signs and symptoms are the most common warnings that your back pain is more than an annoyance, the following list, provided by WebMD, describes other signs and risks not to overlook:
- Unexpected weight loss
- Steroids/medications that weaken the immune system
- A history of cancer
- Accelerating pain that doesn’t lessen with rest
- Pain that goes on for more than a month
- Nighttime pain
- A history of IV drug use.
If you are struggling with debilitating back pain and other treatment options aren’t giving you the relief you need, the experienced spine specialists and neurosurgeons at MountainStar Comprehensive Spine Centers hospitals can help.
"At the comprehensive spine center, we try to evaluate and utilize all minimally invasive non-surgical techniques prior to discussing surgical intervention. Then, if surgical intervention is indicated we can discuss it in detail in an environment that is free of pressure," Church says. "Surgical techniques have improved significantly over the last 20 years, my surgeon colleagues are well-trained and well experienced and utilize minimally invasive techniques. Some even utilize the newest technology in robotics for spine care surgery."
Pay attention to the pain signals your brain is firing at you; your body is trying to tell you something.