Did you wake up this morning with back pain? Or perhaps you noticed back pain only when you went to pick up your child or head out for a run. No matter when back pain strikes, it can really impact your quality of life. While some aches and pains are common every now and then, if it lasts for a long time or starts to impact your daily routines, you want to talk with your doctor. If left untreated, you could end up with chronic back pain that impacts your ability to go about your daily life. Knowing when to see a doctor for back pain is key to a full recovery from a back injury or other condition causing your discomfort. Here are some tips for how to know when it’s time to see a doctor for back pain.
5 Signs You Should See a Doctor for Back Pain
While you might not go running to the doctor for every little scrape, bruise, or bout of pain, there are times when a trip to the doctor’s office is necessary. Check out these five signs that you should see a doctor about your back pain.
Back pain lasts longer than a week
When you have pain that lingers for more than a week, it may be time to see your doctor. While mild injuries can heal on their own, moderate to severe injuries may require medical intervention so you can fully heal. If you have taken all the steps to recover at home, like resting and alternating with ice and heat, but the pain still persists, then there may be something else going on. An orthopedic doctor who specializes in back pain can identify the source of your pain and determine the best course of action for lasting pain relief.
Back pain extends to other body parts
Sometimes back pain stays in one place, but other times it can travel to other parts of your body. If you have back pain that starts to extend into your extremities, like your hands or feet, then you want to see a doctor. You could have a back injury that affects nearby nerves, which causes pain and discomfort to spread throughout your body. For example, sciatica refers to a type of back pain where the sciatic nerve becomes aggravated and causes pain and other symptoms that extend into your hip, buttock, and leg.
Back pain occurs with tingling and numbness
Other signs that your nerves may be aggravated by a back injury include tingling and numbness. If your back pain also occurs with a “pins and needles” sensation, or you notice your hands and feet falling asleep easily, you may have a pinched or damaged nerve. Tingling and numbness occur when a nerve becomes aggravated or compressed, which causes the nerve to send mixed-up signals to other parts of the body. You might not always notice the tingling and numbness with your back pain because it may occur or get worse with certain movements or activities.
Back pain accompanied by a fever
In some cases, you could get a fever along with back pain. This could signal that you have an infection or other serious condition that requires medical attention. A fever could indicate a medical problem that you may not be able to manage from home. Certain illnesses, like the flu, can cause body aches and fever. Other infections could occur in or around the spine or elsewhere, like your kidneys or bladder, and lead to back pain and fever.
Back pain occurs after a sudden injury
If you were in a car accident or hurt your back while playing sports, then you might develop back pain. Sometimes it can take a while for back pain to set in after a sudden injury. For example, pain from a whiplash injury could take hours or even days to fully appear. You could even notice stiffness and soreness after a minor slip and fall. Back pain after a sudden injury could be a sign of a more serious issue, and you always want to get checked out for possible injuries.
Common Causes of Back Pain
How do you know what is causing your back pain? While you might have a specific incident to point to that caused your pain, other times, it can develop gradually and you can’t pinpoint the exact reason. A doctor can help diagnose the source of your back pain with a thorough physical exam and diagnostic imaging tools like X-rays, CT scans, or an MRI. Here are some common causes of back pain and what to expect.
Acute injuries refer to sudden injuries that may occur from a car accident, while playing sports, or because of a slip and fall. You could develop an acute injury because of a sudden blow to the body or because of a sudden, awkward movement that twists or tears something in your body. Examples of an acute injury that leads to back pain include whiplash, a herniated disc, or a bruised rib.
Unlike acute injuries, overuse injuries typically develop over time with repetitive movements. An overuse injury can develop when you perform the same motion over and over again, which can lead to inflammation and swelling. Think of repetitive activities you engage in, like golfing or playing tennis multiple times a week. When you golf, you engage in a twisting motion of your upper body that can put pressure on your spine and back muscles. Too much of the same motion or activity can lead to an overuse injury.
Muscle strains are a common cause of back pain. Your back depends on a series of muscles that provide stability and support for your spine. Your back muscles also allow you to twist, turn, stretch, and perform all kinds of regular, everyday movements. A muscle strain occurs when a muscle becomes overstretched and may even tear, causing back pain and other symptoms. Examples of a back muscle strain include what people commonly refer to as “throwing out your back” from lifting something too heavy.
Another potential cause of back pain and pain elsewhere in the body is arthritis. Spinal arthritis can develop due to regular wear and tear on the body as you age, known as osteoarthritis. This type of arthritis can cause the cartilage that separates and supports the vertebrae in your spine to slowly break down and deteriorate until the bones are rubbing against one another. Arthritis that affects your spine can also lead to other conditions, like the narrowing of your spinal column, known as spinal stenosis.
Treatment Options for Back Pain
If you experience mild back pain, you might try to manage your discomfort with home remedies. However, if your symptoms don’t improve within a week, you may want to talk to your doctor about other treatment options. Here are examples of how you can treat back pain, ranging from non-invasive to surgical procedures.
Home remedies for back pain typically include resting and applying ice and heat. Rest from certain activities can help you recover and avoid movements or activities that may aggravate your injury or make the pain worse. Applying cold compresses can also help with reducing swelling and inflammation, while a heating pad can help soothe stiff, aching muscles.
A chiropractor provides an all-natural approach to treating your back pain. Chiropractors use safe and gentle therapeutic techniques like chiropractic adjustments to address any misalignments in the spine and restore healthy functioning to your whole body. Chiropractors also use therapeutic massage and other hands-on techniques to reduce your pain and support your body’s natural healing processes.
Physical therapy is a great option for improving your strength and mobility after an injury or surgery. You can visit a physical therapist to take an active role in managing and relieving back pain. Physical therapy involves a combination of stretches, exercises, and other techniques to support your muscles and spinal health. Your physical therapist can help you improve your balance, coordination, and flexibility with this hands-on and non-invasive approach to treating back pain.
In some cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to help you experience lasting relief from back pain. Surgery is typically only recommended after non-invasive treatment options have failed to bring about lasting relief. Or you may require surgery after suffering a serious back injury that causes severe pain and other intense symptoms and issues.
Visit AICA Orthopedics in Jonesboro to learn more about how we can help you deal with back pain. Our team of chiropractors, physical therapists, and orthopedic surgeons will provide you with a thorough examination, diagnosis, and treatment plan that specifically addresses your pain and any other symptoms. We will walk you through all your options for treatment and be by your side as you experience lasting pain relief and learn how to prevent back pain in the future.