Around 75-85% of Americans experience back pain in their lifetime. However, it is mostly healed by taking rest, massage, and ice-compress. The pain usually goes away in 72 hours with back pain being so common that people often ignore it.
But that is often not the right thing to do as back pain could indicate a serious issue. So, how to know when back pain is serious and should be worried about back pain or not? The better you know about the pain, the better you can help yourself. Here we give you all the information you need to make the right call.
Two Types of Back Pain
Back pain is broadly classified into two types: Acute and Chronic
Acute back pain: Most people suffer from acute back pain. It happens for various reasons like sleeping in the wrong position, weight lifting, and too much exercise. It doesn’t last for more than six weeks and often gets healed without medical attention. This type of back pain usually does not result in a serious problem.
Chronic back pain: The pain that lasts more than three months is known as chronic back pain. Old age can often cause chronic back pain but may also arise due to prior injury. This pain is recurrent and slowly builds up over time if it is ignored, then it can cause mobility issues and severe health problems.
There are times when people have acute pain that, if left untreated, can develop into a chronic problem. Next, we look at the common causes of back pain.
Causes of Back Pain
Common causes of back pain include:
Muscle or Ligament Strain – Lifting heavy objects, too much exercise, or sudden awkward movement can cause strain in your muscles and ligaments of the spine. This pain is often sudden, and the cause of it is instantly known.
Arthritis – Spinal osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis caused when the cartilage that protects the end of the bones deteriorates. In some cases, spinal osteoarthritis can narrow down the spaces around the spinal cord.
Osteoporosis – In this condition mass and strength of the bone decrease, and hence the risk of fracture increases. The tissues of the spine vertebrae weaken and collapse, causing a sharp pain in the back.
Lifestyle – Not every time your back pain results from some underlying condition. The prevalence of back pain is often related to physical activity. It can also happen due to an improper lifestyle that leads to back pain. Below are some of the things that can affect your back and become worse over time if it is ignored.
- Improper posture
- Not exercising enough
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Prolonged inactivity
- Heavy lifting
What is Meant by “Serious Back Pain”?
Back pain is an ache that starts from anywhere in the back and can go all the way down to the legs. When the pain creeps in, it is usually a sign of a serious problem that requires medical attention. Serious back pain can be a subjective term, but it usually relates to when an issue cannot be solved without medical intervention.
Given the importance of the back, it’s often a good idea to consult with a doctor quickly to see whether or not your back pain is serious. Regarding your back, it’s always best to be overly cautious rather than risk a bigger issue.
Back Pain Diagnosis
Below are some of the signs of serious back pain
- Does not improve with rest
- Consistent for 2 weeks and no sign of improvement
- Pain below the hips
- Consistent weakness
- Weight loss
- Swelling or redness on the back
- Loss of control of bowel accompanied with back pain
- Numbness and tingling in both legs
Your doctor might ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 0 to 10. He will check your ability to sit, walk and lift your leg. These examinations will help doctors to understand where the pain comes from, and how much you can move until your pain forces you to stop.
Back Pain Diagnosis
Your doctor might ask to carry out the following tests if he suspects any certain condition that is the reason for your back pain
Blood Test – Your doctor might run some tests to know if there is an underlying infection that might be the reason for your pain.
X-ray – The images show the alignment of your bones or if you have arthritis or broken bones.
MRI or CT-Scan – This scan shows internal body structures like bones, discs, spinal cord, and the spaces between the vertebral bones
Bone scan – In rare cases, your doctor might ask for a bone scan. It is a test that uses nuclear imaging technology to diagnose bone disease.
Nerve studies – Electromyography(EMG) is used to measure how quickly an electrical impulse is moving through the nerves. It helps to find the location of numbness, pain, or tingling.
Hopefully, these tests allow your doctor to see what the issue is so they can take steps to solve it.
When Should I Worry About Lower Back Pain?
According to a study by NINDS, lower back pain is one of the common reasons people miss work to see the doctor, even children suffer from back pain. Around four out of five people suffer from lower back pain at some point in their life.
Injuries in muscles and tendons can be the cause of lower back pain. Lower back pain interferes in day-to-day activities. In some cases, pain is so extreme that it makes it difficult for a person to do basic movements in the body like sitting up straight, bending, etc.
Usually, it is healed at home without any medical treatment by taking some rest. However, if the pain is unbearable and continues for a longer time, this might be a time to see a doctor. Here we look at the big danger signs which you should look for.
Increasing weakness in your legs
Lower back pain is categorized mainly into two types
Mechanical Pain – The source of pain is mainly the spine and the supporting area around it. It arises from pain in muscles, joints, and ligaments. People experience this type of pain radiating towards the buttocks and thighs.
Radicular Pain – This pain occurs when a spinal nerve becomes inflamed or compressed. The pain radiates through the spine from your hip or back to your legs. The leg pain gives a sharp-burning type sensation along with numbness and weakness
This sensation can result from nerve damage or irritation, which is more alarming than your pain. When numbness and tingling sensation get worse, it also affects daily activities.
Lower back pain is the combination of the below symptoms.
Dull aching pain – This pain remains in the lower back and causes a dull sensation instead of sharp pain. This pain is also accompanied by limited mobility and aches in the pelvis and hips.
Pain radiating towards buttocks and legs – Burning and tingling sensation that moves from the buttocks to the back of thighs, it is also sometimes felt in the lower leg.
Pain worsening after long hours of sitting – Sitting for a longer duration put pressure on discs which makes the pain worse. Movements like walking and stretching might reduce the pain however, going back to the sitting position can cause the pain to return.
Pain that is worse after waking up – People experience pain in the morning due to stiffness, decreases blood flow in sleep and taking rest for prolonged hours. People with back pain often complain that this is the first worst thing that happens to them in the morning. The quality of the mattress also affects back pain.
If you get any of these symptoms, especially for longer than 72 hours, then it’s time for you to see a doctor. Any weakness in your legs can be a big warning sign that you should be looked at by a medical professional.
Fever is usually accompanied by several aches in the body, including lower back pain. However, when fever is not showing any sign of improvement along with lower back pain, then this might be the indication of some serious infection.
Loss of bladder and/or bowel control
When lower back pain is accompanied by lack of bladder control or loss of bowel, this might be the indication of a condition called cauda equina syndrome. In this condition, the nerve root in the lower part of the spinal cord experiences some sort of compression and becomes paralyzed. Treatment is required immediately as it may result in paralysis in the legs.
Unexplained weight loss
When you have unexplained weight loss along with lower back pain, your doctor might run some tests to check if an infection is a possible cause of your back pain.
What Symptoms Should Prompt You To See The Doctor?
Around 80% of people experience back pain at some point in their life, and most of them ignore it because it is so common. The pain can be dull, which lasts a few weeks and can go to severe, which lasts up to several weeks. Many times back pain is treated at home itself however, one should immediately consult a doctor if they see one or several symptoms listed below.
You’ve been in pain for more than a week – If your back pain is not improving even after taking rest or after some home remedies, then this is the sign that you need professional help now.
Your pain is extending beyond the back – If you are experiencing pain that is radiating all the way down to your legs, then this might be the indication of something more than muscular strain. Take an appointment to get a proper diagnosis of this condition.
Numbness or tingling – If you have numbness or tingling in your legs, or anywhere in your body, accompanied by back pain, this can result from nerve damage or irritation.
Back pain with redness and swelling – When the spine and surrounding tissue are infected with bacteria or virus, this results in severe back pain associated with redness and swelling.
Bowel or bladder control problem – If you are having back pain along with trouble controlling your bowel movements, then these symptoms indicate Cauda Equina Syndrome. This happens when the nerve in the lower spine becomes paralyzed or has faced any compression.
Unintended weight loss – If you are losing weight while suffering from back pain simultaneously, there might be the possibility of underlying infection. Your doctor will run tests to check it.
How I Cured My Lower Back Pain
When back pain is not severe and does not have any associated serious symptoms, then it can be treated with the home remedies listed below.
Heat and ice therapy – Wrap the ice in a cloth and put it on the affected area. Using ice packs can reduce inflammation and helps to lessen the discomfort. Use heating pads after a few days of using ice packs; it increases the blood circulation in the area and will help to relax the muscles.
Exercise – Movement increases muscle strength and improves posture. Exercising regularly relieves discomfort and pain. As per the research, recurring back pain attacks reduce significantly when you exercise daily. Physiotherapists can teach you to perform exercises that will help to ease back pain.
Essential oil – As per the research, applying essential oil or ointments with capsaicin can help reduce chronic pain conditions. Capsaicin is a chilli pepper extract used as a homoeopathic remedy to treat burning pain. Capsaicin reduces the transmission of pain by desensitizing the nerves in the affected area.
Limit your bed rest – The more you move, the better you are. Doctors now know well that resting for a longer duration can cause muscle stiffness. However, bed rest is useful when your condition is so severe that it is not allowing you to sit or walk without pain. Try to limit your rest to a few hours at a time.
When should I be concerned about back pain?
If you have been in pain for about more than a week and it is causing problems in sitting and standing, then it is suggested to seek medical help. When your pain moves towards other parts of the body, especially your legs.
How do I know when my back pain is bad?
When back pain is accompanied by several other symptoms like loss of bowel movement, fever, stomach ache, swelling, or redness, it makes the condition severe. Your back pain might be bad if it is not healed after taking rest and has been consistent for over a week or more
How to lessen the risk of back pain?
There are many ways through which you can prevent back pain. Eating healthy and lifestyle changes can have a significant impact on the health of your back. Below are some of the tips to prevent back pain.
Exercise regularly – Working out helps to maintain your muscle strength and also keeps you fit. Stretching your body daily is beneficial for your muscle and bone health. A healthy weight can be achieved by doing exercise on daily basis.
Good posture – Don’t slouch when you sit. Maintaining a good posture while sitting is extremely important for your back. When you are working at a desk, maintain a 90-degree angle and try not to slouch.
In many ways, back pain is always serious. You should never try and forget about it and instead, closely monitor it. If symptoms start to ease within three days, then it’s a good sign that it’s an acute injury that will resolve itself soon.
That being said, if the pain is severe or you get any warning signs above, it’s best to consult a medical professional immediately. It’s best not to take any chances with your health, especially your back. If you’re worried, get it checked out.