When To See A Doctor With Lower Back Pain

Knowing When Back Pain Is More Serious Could Save Your Life

In This Article –

  • When Do Your Symptoms Need Urgent Treatment – Not Just Rest?
  • What Options Does Your Doctor Have When Making A Diagnosis?

We all like to put off visiting our doctor until it is absolutely necessary. Sometimes it isn’t so important – but other times that visit might just save your life. We look at the warning signs that your back pain needs more than just reduced activity…

When Do Your Symptoms Need Urgent Treatment – Not Just Rest

Most back pain is the result of simple muscle fatigue or strain and a period of rest/ treatment is all that is needed to get you back on your feet.

However, the spine is still one of the most important parts of the body and it’s pain signals should not be ignored – in certain circumstances immediate medical treatment is essential. The question is – when to see a doctor with lower back pain?

1.Severe Pain From Both The Lower Back And Stomach.

It is rare for lower back pain to cause severe abdominal pain, but not unusual for it to occur the other way around. In other words, whatever is causing the abdominal pain is also causing lower back pain as a symptom.

The bright side is it could be much more treatable, but if left untreated could also be potentially more dangerous, even life threatening. Possible causes of the stomach pain could be a serious infection, a cancer or even an aortic aneurysm, among other options.

There are even more possibilities for women to develop abdominal pain, including eptopic pregnancies – all of which require immediate medical intervention.

2.Neurological Impairment

Electrical impulses in the spinal carry vital messages around the body. Symptoms such as poor coordination, loss of feeling, fluctuating levels of consciousness and even temporary paralysis can all be examples of faulting signals in the spinal cord – and an indication of something very seriously wrong.

3.Fever-like Symptoms That Do Not Respond To Over-The-Counter Medications

Feverish symptoms typically indicate the presence of an infection. When the fever seems to have a bias in pain centred towards the lower spine, then you should a doctor immediately. Spinal infections can cause pus-filled cavities known as an epidural abscess. If left untreated this can press on the nerve structures and ultimately cause paralysis. This is thankfully quite rare – but essential that you seek a doctor in this instance.

Male Doctor writing something down while patient is talking in a room

4.Progressive Weak Feeling In Your Legs

This can be a prime indicator of degenerative disc disease. Surgery can halt the decline and put support in your spine, so it is best to go and see an orthopaedic/ spinal consultant straight away.

5.Loss Of Bladder Control

Numbness around the groin/ bottom area, incontinence or general loss of your ability to control your bladder should all be treated very seriously with an immediate visit to your local, and most probably ‘Accident & Emergency’ department.

Do not wait to see if it gets better – these particular symptoms could indicate spinal compression or an injury to the spinal cord, both of which will only get worse and more dangerous if you try to ‘work through them’.

There are also 2 other ‘guidelines’ by which help to advise us when to see a doctor with lower back pain –

6.When it’s been bothering you for more than 6 weeks, despite trying rest/ massage/ hot compress etc.

7.If it’s actually getting worse after several days/ weeks of resting and treatment.

In either case again, the best option is to go and see your doctor and at least make sure it is nothing more serious.

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What Options Does Your Doctor Have When Making a Diagnosis?

Following a brief examination and a much fuller discussion around how and when your back pain occurred (to assess the likelihood of injury vs disease), it is very possible you will get referred for any one of a number of scans – these can broadly be broken in to X-Rays, CT Scans and MRI Scans.

X-Ray. An x-ray is normally the first form of diagnostic test done, even if not the most sophisticated. The part of the body that is due to be scanned will be placed between the X-ray machine and a photographic film.

It works by sending electromagnetic waves through your body, creating an image of the areas that were less penetrable on the other side of the photographic film.

X-rays are typically used to diagnose clearly present problems such as bone disease, dislocations, fractures, tumors or spinal degeneration. X-rays can also be used to look at organs in association with a dye that you be asked to drink.

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) – Unlike an X-Ray or a CT Scan, an MRI does not use radiation – instead it uses radio waves and a very powerful magnet to create detailed cross-section images of organs/ bones.

You would be laid down on a table and slid in to a tube-shaped scanner. The MRI scanner then creates a magnetic field around the you, projecting radio waves in to your body.

These create vibrations that are translated in to images captured on a computer. Typically, MRI scans are used for diagnosing torn cartilage, herniated discs and bone issues.

CT Scans – These are machines with a tunnel in the centre that you are slid in to. The scanner then rotates around you, creating ‘slice’ images of your cross-section, while a CT operator sits in another room operating the machine and talking to you through speakers.

CT scans ultimately produce a really detailed image that can be used to diagnose a whole range of diseases and muscle or bone problems.

The Final Word –

Sometimes your back pain is much more serious than just a simple strain or pulled muscle. When this is the case, it is really important that you recognise the warning signs early and get to your local doctor.

Even if it isn’t anything serious, at least you can rule out other alternatives. If you ignore the warning signs until the symptoms are unbearable you might just find you’ve left it too late. Most diseases have far better outcomes based on early treatment.

Ultimately, the rest of your life may depend on how fast you recognise serious symptoms from muscle strain and how quickly you react to go and visit a doctor, get a diagnosis and start effective treatment.

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