Over 80% of the population will suffer from lower back pain at some point in their lives. Low back pain is a common complaint in medical offices and is a common issue causing many people to miss work and be unable to participate in daily life activities. Sometimes back pain is due to a pulled or strained muscle and many times will not require a trip to your doctor’s office. Other issues such as fractures, tumors and infections of the spine are very serious and need to be evaluated by a physician promptly.
Patients should see a doctor immediately if they experience low back pain as a result of severe trauma. Patients should also make an appointment with a doctor if low back pain is accompanied by any of the following: fever, loss of bowel or bladder control, serious trauma, numbness, unplanned weight loss, personal history of cancer, back pain that persists more than 6 weeks, or severe night pain.
Fever and Back Pain
Fever combined with back pain can indicate an infection in your kidneys or back. A primary care physician can determine if you need antibiotics to eliminate the infection.
Loss of control of your bowel or bladder and Back Pain
If you have back pain along with new incontinence, you could have a serious back condition causing pressure on the nerves that requires immediate medical care.
Serious Trauma and Back Pain
Trauma such as a car accident or falling down a flight of stairs can cause a fracture in your back. Seek immediate care from your physician or the emergency department.
Numbness or Tingling in Leg and Back Pain
Numbness on tingling in your leg and back pain could indicate nerve irritation or nerve damage. You could have a herniated disc or spinal stenosis. A doctor can prescribe medications, treatments or even surgery to help relieve the pressure on the nerves.
Unexplained weight loss and Back Pain
If you lose a lot of weight without changing your diet or activity level and have back pain, a doctor should order imaging and blood work to check for cancers or hormonal disorders.
History of Cancer and New Back Pain
If you have had cancer, onset of back pain could be a sign that cancer has spread to you spine. You should visit your physician for further evaluation.
Back Pain at Night
Pain in your back that causes you to lose sleep should not be dismissed. This could be a sign of spinal tumors or even cancer.
Back pain that lasts more than 6 weeks
Any pain that lasts more than a month or two should be evaluated more fully.
If you experience significant trauma and back pain, an evaluation in the Emergency Department is indicated. In most other cases, your primary care physician can evaluate your condition and begin treatment. . If he or she is unable to help with your condition he can refer you to a spine specialist.
For more information about low back pain, visit Spine-Health.com. Our spine physicians at Emory regularly contribute content to this website for not only our own patients, but for anyone searching for spine information.
About Susan Dreyer, MD
Dr. Dreyer is an Associate Professor in the departments of Orthopaedics and Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at Emory University School of Medicine. Dr. Dreyer specializes in non-operative spine care and focuses on helping patients achieve their best functional level. She has taught many national and international courses on spine care and spinal injections for sciatica and other causes of back and neck problems. She is also active in several professional societies. Dr. Dreyer started practicing at Emory in 1992.
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