Back pain: Symptom When to see a doctor



About 80% of adults experience back pain at some time in their lives. It’s one of most common reasons people see a doctor or miss work. The pain can range from a dull ache to sharp, sudden and debilitating pain.

For most people, back pain is mechanical in nature, which means the elements of your back and how they move together has changed.

Possible back conditions could include:

  • Muscle or ligament strain

    Heavy lifting or a sudden awkward movement can strain the muscles or ligaments in your back. Also, if you are overweight or in poor physical condition, the constant strain on your back can cause muscle fatigue and muscle spasms.

  • Bulging or ruptured disk

    Disks are the cushions between the bones in your spine. You can have bulging or ruptured disks that may or may not cause pain by compressing a nerve root and causing pain that radiates into the leg.

  • Arthritis

    Disks may narrow over time and cause your vertebrae to grind together resulting pain.

Most back pain — even severe back pain — goes away on its own in four to six weeks with self-care, such as rest, heat or ice, over-the-counter pain medication and exercise.

Surgery often is effective to correct a spinal deformity or instability issue. Surgery also is helpful to treat pain radiating down a leg due to compression of a nerve root in the spine if other conservative treatments have failed. However, surgery is not considered a good treatment for generalized back pain.

So how do you know when to see your doctor about your back pain?

Here are a few causes or symptoms that indicate it is time to schedule an appointment:

  • Follows a fall, blow to your back or other injury
  • Is constant or intense pain, especially at night or when you lie down
  • Spreads down one or both legs, especially if the pain extends below your knee
  • Causes weakness, numbness or tingling in one or both legs
  • Occurs with swelling or redness on your back, which could indicate an infection
  • Occurs with unintended weight loss
  • Occurs with new bowel or bladder control problems

Also, if you have a history of cancer, talk with your health care provider about any new pain you are experiencing, including back pain.

T.K. Schiefer, M.D., is a neurosurgeon in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.


For the safety of our patients, staff and visitors, Mayo Clinic has strict masking policies in place. Anyone shown without a mask was either recorded prior to COVID-19 or recorded in a non-patient care area where social distancing and other safety protocols were followed.

FAQs

When should I see a doctor lower back pain?

If your back pain lasts more than two weeks and keeps you from participating in normal, daily activities, see your family doctor. If your pain is severe, you should see a doctor sooner. You should seek urgent medical care if you have: Fever associated with back pain

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How do I know if my lower back pain is serious?

When should I see a doctor if I have lower back pain?

  1. If the pain lasts four weeks or longer.
  2. If the pain keeps getting worse as time goes by.
  3. If you are experiencing other symptoms, such as fever, major weight loss or weight gain, loss of function or weakness in extremities, bladder problems, etc.

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Can doctors do anything for lower back pain?

Treatment may include occupational therapy, physical therapy, or both, special exercises, medications, losing weight, and surgery. Medical options include injecting the joints next to the damaged disc with steroids and a local anesthetic. These are called facet joint injections. They can provide effective pain relief

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How do you tell if lower back pain is muscle or disc?

Your spinal disc is at the bottom of your back, so if you have pain in your lower back, you may assume it is a slipped disc. Furthermore, the feeling of pain will differ between the two. Muscle pain will feel like post-workout soreness, while disc pain will feel debilitating and tingly.

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What are 3 causes of lower back pain?

Lower back pain is very common. It can result from a strain (injury) to muscles or tendons in the back. Other causes include arthritis, structural problems and disk injuries. Pain often gets better with rest, physical therapy and medication.

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How do you explain back pain to the doctor?

Using Adjectives ? Adjectives provide the most accurate description because they give doctors a better idea of what your pain feels like, even from an outside perspective. Some adjectives you can use are burning, stinging, stiff, sore, radiating, and aching to paint the picture for your spine surgeon accurately.

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What are the red flags of back pain?

?Red flags? include pain that lasts more than 6 weeks; pain in persons younger than 18 years or older than 50 years; pain that radiates below the knee; a history of major trauma; constitutional symptoms; atypical pain (eg, that which occurs at night or that is unrelenting); the presence of a severe or rapidly …

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How do you know if back pain is muscular or spinal?

If the pain you feel extends to your arms, forearms, and hands, the source may be your cervical spine. On the other hand, if you feel the pain radiating to your legs, it may be a problem with the lumbar spine.

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What does a slipped disc feel like in lower back?

If you have a herniated lumbar disc, you may feel pain that radiates from your low back area, down one or both legs, and sometimes into your feet (called sciatica). You may feel a pain like an electric shock that is severe whether you stand, walk, or sit.

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Is it better to sit or lay down with lower back pain?

You should lie down to relieve the pain, but the goal should be not to return to sitting, but rather to regain your ability to stand and move. “The goal isn’t to get into the chair. The goal is to start moving. Walking is better than sitting,” he says.

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8 Signs That it's Time to Call a Doctor for Your Back Pain

8 Signs That it’s Time to Call a Doctor for Your Back Pain Most people have experienced back pain at some point in their lives. It’s actually the leading cause of disability worldwide and the most common reason people call out of work. Back pain can come in many different forms, ranging from a dull ache that lasts only a few days to severe pain that lasts for weeks. Depending on the intensity of the pain, there are many treatments you can try at home to help. But how do you know when it’s time to stop home remedies and see a physician? If any of the following applies to your back pain, then it’s time to make an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible. You’ve Been in Pain for Over a Week Most back pain will subside after a few days, but if you’ve been experiencing pain for over a week, then it’s time to call a doctor. Your doctor will perform any examinations or tests required to help get to the bottom of your pain before it could become a bigger problem. As is the case with many health conditions, prevention and addressing problems early is key. Your Pain Extends to Other Body Parts If you’re experiencing severe back pain that is coupled with pain in other areas — such as shooting pain down your leg — then you should see a doctor. This could be a sign that you have sciatica, a form of pain that affects the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back and through the buttocks before branching down each leg. This condition usually results from a herniated disk. A doctor will be able to offer a variety of ways that you can relieve this pain. You Have Numbness, Tingling or Weakness Back pain accompanied by sensations of numbness, tingling or weakness could be a sign of nerve irritation or damage. This is especially true if the pain persists after taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers. Nerve pain is serious and can result in permanent damage or disability if left untreated. You Have Pain After an Accident If you get into a car accident (even a minor one), or fall or experience any kind of injury that results in back pain, it’s time to see a professional. You may have a more serious problem, like a fracture, that needs to be addressed. Your Pain is Worse at Certain Times or in Certain Positions If your back pain wakes you up in the middle of the night or appears when you’re in certain positions, such as lying down, then this could be a sign of a more serious problem. It could be a sign of a more systematic problem such as an infection, fracture, severe nerve compression or even cancer. You’re Having Problems with Your Bowels or Urination If your back pain is paired with a loss of control over your bowels or urination, then it’s time to seek help immediately at a local emergency room. These symptoms point to cauda equina syndrome, where the nerves in the lower spine have become paralyzed. While rare, this syndrome can be permanently damaging to the nerves if left untreated. If you experience these symptoms, especially accompanied by numbness in the legs, then you may need surgery to decompress the nerves and preserve their overall function. You Have Unexplained Weight Loss If you experience sudden weight loss that can’t be explained by diet and lifestyle changes, then you should always pay attention to what your body is telling you. This is especially true when the unexplained weight loss is accompanied by back pain. See your doctor to rule out the possibility of a more severe condition, such as an infection or tumor. You’re Running a Fever The flu can definitely make you run a fever and achiness, including in your back. However, if the fever is unresponsive to standard OTC medications, you could have a serious infection that needs treatment immediately. If you go to a…

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Back pain: Symptom When to see a doctor – Mayo Clinic

Back pain: Symptom When to see a doctor From Mayo Clinic to your inbox Sign up for free, and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips and current health topics, like COVID-19, plus expertise on managing health. To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.

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Back Pain: When to See a Doctor – WebMD

When to See a Doctor for Back Pain Menu When to See Your Doctor About Back Pain By Ayren Jackson-CannadyHow do you know when that achy pain in your back is more than you can handle alone? Experts agree — if your back pain is in conjunction with any of the following symptoms, skip the at-home remedies for in-office help.There are several red flags that doctors look for when evaluating low back pain.The purpose of these warning signs is to detect fractures, tumors, or infections of the spine. If you have any of these red flags along with back pain, see your doctor as soon as possible.FeverSure, your back just could be achy and tight from the flu, but an unresponsive fever accompanied by back pain also could be a sign of a serious infection. “It’s indicative of something more systemic,” says orthopaedic surgeon Richard Guyer, MD, founder of the Texas Back Institute and Associate Clinical Professor of Orthopaedics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School.What to expect: Your primary care doctor can rule out an infection. If it is an infection, antibiotics may be prescribed. If your doctor rules out an infection, a couple days of rest can be helpful. Sometimes back pain can be a result or a secondary consequence of an infection causing the fever. But once you start to feel better, doctors typically recommend slowly resuming your daily activity. Resting more than a day or two can actually make your back pain worse. TraumaIf you’ve had a serious trauma — such as a fall from a height or a car accident — or if you’ve had a relatively minor trauma and you’re over 50, your doctor will want to take a serious look at your back pain. Even falling down a few steps when you’re older can cause a fracture.What to expect: Your doctor will probably take an X-ray to look for fractures. If no fractures are found, you may manage your pain with medication and later your recovery with physical therapy.Numbness or TinglingYou might think that you can stop numbness or prickly tingling with over-the-counter medication, but this is usually an indication of nerve irritation or damage and is clinically more significant than your typical pain, says New York City chiropractor Todd Sinett, author of The Truth About Back Pain. If that pins-and-needles feeling won’t go away, you may be experiencing one of several conditions — such as a herniated disc, spinal stenosis — that can cause nerve pressure. “If left untreated, prolonged nerve irritation and damage can lead to permanent disabilities,” says Sinett. What to expect: It would be smart to first see your primary care doctor for an evaluation. Treatment will vary depending on the diagnosis. Additional testing to image the spine and check nerve conduction may be ordered.Loss of Bowel or Bladder FunctionBack pain teamed with a loss of bowel or bladder control can be a telltale sign of a rare, but serious condition called cauda equina syndrome, in which the nerve roots in the lower end of the spinal cord have experienced some sort of compression and become paralyzed. This can happen as a result of a herniated disk, fracture, tumor, spinal stenosis, or trauma to the spine. Symptoms can develop over time and also include numbness and weakness of the legs. Cauda equina syndrome is a medical emergency and requires immediate attention.What to expect: In order to relieve the pressure that is damaging nerves and preserve nerve function, “Your doctor will perform a procedure called a surgical decompression,” says Guyer. Medical history of cancer, suppressed immune system, osteoporosis, or chronic steroid useA history of cancer would make your doctor want to rule out cancer spread as…

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When should I see a doctor about back pain?

When should I see a doctor about back pain? About 80% of adults experience back pain at some time in their lives. It’s one of most common reasons people see a doctor or miss work. The pain can range from a dull ache to sharp, sudden and debilitating pain. For most people, back pain is mechanical in nature, which means the elements of your back and how they move together has changed. Possible back conditions could include: Muscle or ligament strain Heavy lifting or a sudden awkward movement can strain the muscles or ligaments in your back. Also, if you are overweight or in poor physical condition, the constant strain on your back can cause muscle fatigue and muscle spasms. Bulging or ruptured disk Disks are the cushions between the bones in your spine. You can have bulging or ruptured disks that may or may not cause pain by compressing a nerve root and causing pain that radiates into the leg. Arthritis Disks may narrow over time and cause your vertebrae to grind together resulting pain. Most back pain — even severe back pain — goes away on its own in four to six weeks with self-care, such as rest, heat or ice, over-the-counter pain medication and exercise. Surgery often is effective to correct a spinal deformity or instability issue. Surgery also is helpful to treat pain radiating down a leg due to compression of a nerve root in the spine if other conservative treatments have failed. However, surgery is not considered a good treatment for generalized back pain. So how do you know when to see your doctor about your back pain? Here are a few causes or symptoms that indicate it is time to schedule an appointment: Follows a fall, blow to your back or other injury Is constant or intense pain, especially at night or when you lie down Spreads down one or both legs, especially if the pain extends below your knee Causes weakness, numbness or tingling in one or both legs Occurs with swelling or redness on your back, which could indicate an infection Occurs with unintended weight loss Occurs with new bowel or bladder control problems Also, if you have a history of cancer, talk with your health care provider about any new pain you are experiencing, including back pain. T.K. Schiefer, M.D., is a neurosurgeon in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. For the safety of our patients, staff and visitors, Mayo Clinic has strict masking policies in place. Anyone shown without a mask was either recorded prior to COVID-19 or recorded in a non-patient care area where social distancing and other safety protocols were followed.

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When Should You See A Doctor For Back Pain? | DISC

When Should You See A Doctor For Back Pain? | DISC By Justin Field, M.D. For many people, back pain feels like a normal part of life. It’s estimated that 75% to 85% of Americans experience back pain at some point. Back pain appears in different forms, ranging from a dull ache to shooting pain. Most back pain occurs in the lower back, known as the lumbar region. Half of patients with low back pain episodes will experience recurrent episodes in a year. While most back pain resolves on its own and isn’t a sign of something serious, it should be looked at by a doctor in some cases. Your back consists of a spine, muscles, tendons and nerves, so it can be hard to figure what’s causing the pain on your own. If you don’t know what’s causing the pain, you won’t know how to treat it. By going to a doctor for back pain, you can take steps toward feeling better again. A doctor who specializes in spinal conditions can determine the cause of your pain and initiate an effective treatment. They can also treat a condition that might otherwise get worse with time. So, how do you know when you should see a doctor about lower back pain? Let’s look at common causes of back pain and symptoms that call for a professional examination. Common Causes of Back Pain Many different factors can cause or contribute to back pain, from injuries to various diseases. Patients might remember a specific incident that led to their back pain or have no idea what’s causing their discomfort. While there are dozens of conditions that can make someone’s back hurt, some are much more common than others. Here are common causes of back pain: 1. Herniated Disc A herniated disc is an issue with one of the soft cushions, called spinal discs, that sit between the bones in your spine. Each spinal disc has a tough exterior. A herniated disc happens when the soft part of the disc pushes through a tear in its encasement. The bulging disc might aggravate nearby nerves and cause symptoms. Many people who have a herniated disc do not have symptoms or need surgery. When symptoms occur, someone might experience pain, burning, stinging or weakness or numbness in their limbs. For some people, having a herniated disc is a debilitating condition. For 90% of people, a herniated disc heals on its own. Sometimes, a herniated disc can lead to chronic back pain. In rare cases, an untreated herniated disc can cause permanent nerve damage. 2. Facet Joints Your facet joints are small joints connected to your vertebrae that allow motion and stability in your spine. They are covered by cartilage to prevent friction and promote smooth movements. The facet joints located in your lower spine carry the most weight and sustain the greatest amount of stress. Over time, the facet joints’ cartilage can break down and lead to a condition known as facet joint syndrome. Facet joint syndrome is characterized by lower back pain, which may radiate through the buttocks and in your upper thighs. Lumbar facet joints account for up to 45% of low back pain. You may be able to treat facet joint pain with over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, topical treatments or physical therapy. However, if home remedies and physical therapy do not relieve your symptoms, you have other options. For example, you might ask a doctor about an endoscopic rhizotomy. An endoscopic rhizotomy is a least invasive surgical procedure that involves making a tiny incision and using a laser or radiofrequency probe to ablate pain-causing nerves around the facet joints. This procedure is the least invasive surgical treatment for chronic low back pain yet the most effective. 3. Sciatica Sciatica is a term used to describe pain that travels along the sciatic nerve. Your sciatic nerve runs from your lower back down the side of each leg. Sciatica is often a symptom of a herniated disc. It can also happen due to…

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Lower back pain: Causes, treatment, and when to see a doctor

Lower back pain: Causes, treatment, and when to see a doctorLower back pain is very common. It usually develops due to overuse or a minor injury, but sometimes there may be no obvious cause. Lower back pain can also be a symptom of an underlying medical condition.According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, around 80% of adults will have lower back pain at some point during their lives.The pain can appear suddenly or gradually and can range from a dull ache to intense, sharp pain. In some people, the pain may be chronic.In this article, we look at some of the possible causes of lower back pain and their treatments. We also cover when to see a doctor.Sprains and strains are a common cause of lower back pain. A sprain occurs when a person overstretches or tears a ligament, while doing the same to a tendon or muscle causes a strain.Back sprains and strains can result from overuse, sports injuries, twisting awkwardly, or lifting something too heavy or improperly.The symptoms of back sprains or strains can include tenderness, swelling, and muscle spasms.Learn more about strains and sprains here.TreatmentA person can often treat back sprains and strains at home with rest, ice packs, and over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen.Gently stretching and engaging in low-impact activities such as walking may help prevent the back muscles from becoming too tight.Receiving a forceful impact to the back can cause spinal damage in the form of vertebral fractures and herniated or ruptured discs. Possible causes of this can include falls, motor vehicle accidents, and sports injuries.Back pain usually occurs almost immediately after the injury. Other symptoms may include tingling and numbness that radiates down the legs.TreatmentThe treatment options will depend on the type and severity of the injury. A person may be able to treat minor injuries at home with rest, ice, OTC pain relievers, and gentle stretching.For people with more severe injuries, a doctor may recommend physical therapy, prescription medications, or surgery.Cauda equina syndrome is a rare condition that develops when something compresses or damages the cauda equina, which is a bundle of nerves in the lower part of the spinal cord.This condition typically results from a herniated disc, but other causes include spinal stenosis and fractures, infections, and tumors that affect the spine. It can sometimes also occur as a complication of spinal surgery.Symptoms of cauda equina syndrome can include:severe lower back painbowel and bladder problemsnumbness, weakness, or loss of sensation in one or both legsdifficulty walkingTreatmentCauda equina syndrome is a medical emergency that can lead to serious complications if a person does not receive immediate treatment.Doctors will generally recommend surgery to relieve pressure on the nerves. This reduces a person’s risk of developing permanent paralysis and incontinence.Share on PinterestA doctor may prescribe antibiotics or anti-fungal medication to treat an infection.The spine and surrounding tissues can sometimes become infected with harmful bacteria, viruses, or fungi.Spinal infections can occur when infections from other parts of the body travel to the spine. They can also…

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Lower Back Pain: What Could It Be? | Johns Hopkins Medicine

Lower Back Pain: What Could It Be? Reviewed By: Do you have lower back pain? You are not alone. Anyone can experience lower back pain at any time, even if you don’t have a prior injury or any of the risk factors. It is not always serious and can often get better on its own. But in some cases pain is your body’s way of telling you that something isn’t right. Learn more about lower back pain and what causes it from rehabilitation physician Akhil Chhatre, M.D., who specializes in back pain in the Johns Hopkins Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Why is lower back pain such a common problem? The bottom part of your back typically has just five vertebrae — fewer than your neck and mid-back. And these vertebrae do a lot of heavy lifting! Your lower back is where your spine connects to your pelvis, bearing the weight of your upper body. This area experiences a lot of movement and stress, which may lead to wear, tear and injuries. What are some common causes of lower back pain? Arthritis of the Spine Arthritis of the spine — the slow degeneration of the spinal joints — is the most frequent cause of lower back pain. All of us experience wear and tear as we age, and it is normal for your lower back to start acting up as you get older. As the cartilage breaks down between the spinal joints, surrounding tissues may become inflamed. The inflammation and the thinning of cartilage increase friction in the joints, which may cause pain in the lower back. Back Injuries A bad fall or a car accident can cause a lower back injury. But so can carrying a laundry basket up the stairs. Some back injuries can be sudden and traumatic, and some happen slowly over time. You may think that athletes and active people get injured the most due to their active lifestyle. “But this is not always the case,” Chhatre says. You are just as likely to tweak your back while bending over to pick up a sock from under the bed. It’s the everyday tasks, like holding a child, that may lead to back injuries when done improperly. Herniated Discs A herniated, or bulging, disc is a disc that has “spilled out” of its lining. This happens most frequently in the lower back. The injured disc may not always hurt. But even if it’s painless, its contents can press on or irritate nearby nerves, causing pain in the lower back and other areas. Which lifestyle factors contribute to lower back pain? There are three major lifestyle factors that may affect your chances of developing lower back pain: Multiple studies have established a link between smoking and lower back pain. Smoking raises inflammation inside the body and hinders the body from healing itself. Obesity is also associated with several types of chronic pain, including lower back pain. In people with high body mass index (BMI), the stress on the spine increases, contributing to even more wear and tear. Your level of physical activity can also play a role in your lower back health. While a sedentary lifestyle could increase your risk of developing lower back pain, so can excessive or strenuous physical activity. Check with your doctor if you are unsure about your ideal level of physical activity. Can lower back pain be related to weather? If you feel like your lower back pain worsens on days when it’s cold or the weather is changing, you are not imagining things. Back pain can indeed be related to barometric pressure and outdoor temperature. Changes in pressure can sometimes cause pain in arthritic joints, including the spine. Muscles and joints in general react to the environment, which can make them stiffer and more likely to suffer an injury. Could lower back pain be kidney pain? It absolutely can. Kidneys are located on the back side of your body and kidney pain can sometimes feel like back pain. The only true way to tell the difference is to visit a doctor who can conduct…

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Lower Back Pain: Signs You Need to See a Doctor

Article: Lower Back Pain: Signs You Need to See a DoctorLower back pain is a common problem that most people experience at some point in their life. But, if you don’t recognize some of the severe symptoms of lower back pain, then you might be putting yourself at risk for more episodes. Without the proper treatment of back pain, it might become debilitating or lead to a disability. Keep an eye out for some of these symptoms so you know when to consult with a doctor about treatment. Causes and SymptomsTo understand the cause of back pain, recognizing the symptoms is the first step. Pain in the lower back can range from muscle aches to a stabbing sensation. Depending on if you are bending down, walking, or even sitting down, the pain might worsen. If the lower back pain symptoms don’t get better with rest, or if they persist over a few weeks, it’s important to consult with a doctor. Pain in the lower back is formed from a multitude of issues, like arthritis. Yet, some back pain might be coming from the type of job that you work. Construction, healthcare, and even office work are all industries where lower back pain can persist. Recognize if your work is causing serious issues with your back pain. If your work involves heavy lifting, try lifting from your knees instead of your back. It might relieve some of the pain and pressure off of your lower back. Another cause of lower back pain is straining your muscles or ligaments. Repeated heavy lifting or awkward movements can cause muscle spasms that will be detrimental to your lower back. But even if you’re not lifting, a lack of physical exercise and sitting down for a prolonged amount of time is another cause of lower back pain. Overweight people are actually at higher risk for lower back pain. Getting plenty of exercise can ease some of the pain that you might experience. Lower Back Pain TreatmentAlthough back pain may be common, there are treatments for more serious lower back pain. Orthopedists are physicians that specialize in giving temporary relief for lower back pain. While it isn’t a permanent form of treatment, it’s an option if your back pain isn’t severe. Another form of treatment is acupuncture and massage therapy. These treatments are used to ease some tension but aren’t permanent solutions to the problem. Back surgery, however, is the last resort if none of these temporary treatments work. Back surgery takes a while to recover from. Some patients might lose their mobility functions and even their flexibility. There is also the risk of the surgery not being successful at all if there are other risks involved. If you want to avoid surgery, getting a physical therapist might help. These licensed physicians can give you some exercises that won’t have a huge impact on your back. But the right treatment will only come if you take the time to let your doctor know exactly what is wrong with you. Lower back pain doesn’t have to be a burden on your body. Only a licensed physician can guide you in the direction of the best lower back pain treatment for you. That’s why BASS Medical Group has a dedicated team of experts to help you with any lower back issues that you might have. We value our patients and will work day and night to provide the best care possible. Visit our website or call us at (925) 350-4044.

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When to See a Doctor for Back Pain – Healthgrades

When to See a Doctor for Back Pain Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS — Written By Nancy LeBrunUpdated on August 11, 2020 Getty Back pain is one of the most common medical conditions; more than eight in 10 of us will experience it during our lifetime. There are many reasons why your back may hurt—from a pulled muscle to more serious back and spine conditions. The type of discomfort ranges from a dull backache to sharp pain. The most common type of back pain is acute—which means it goes away within weeks. Chronic back pain lasts longer than three months. Knowing when to see a doctor for back pain is half the battle when it comes to finding relief. Many people continue to function with mild backaches and find relief with at-home care measures. But, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of a more serious back problem that requires a professional medical diagnosis and treatment. Common Causes of Back Pain Two of the most common reasons for back pain are muscle strains or ligament sprains. Obesity and bad posture can put strain on your back and make it hurt. Arthritis and other changes in your spine as you get older can cause back pain. More serious causes of the condition include a ruptured disc or fractured vertebrae. Possible causes of back pain include: Herniated disc, when the soft center of spinal disc “slips” out of place Osteoporosis, a disease that thins and weakens bones including the vertebrae Osteomyelitis, a bone infection Sciatica, or pain along the path of the sciatic nerve Scoliosis, a type of curvature of the spine Stenosis, a narrowing of spaces in the spinal column or nerve passages Ankylosing spondylitis, arthritis in the spine Sacroiliitis, inflammation of the joint between the pelvis and lower spine Back Pain Treatment at Home The good news is that, given time, most back pain gets better on its own. Over-the-counter pain medication may help ease your symptoms. You can also try applying hot or cold packs to reduce your back pain. Both heat and cold stimulate the nerves (which can ease pain); so use whichever you prefer and see what works best for you. Doctors more commonly recommend heat to relax tight muscles, but you may find ice reduces swelling. Use your heat or cold pack for about 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Don’t apply the heat or cold treatment directly to skin. Rest and avoiding activities that especially put strain on your back may also help while you heal. However, doctors don’t generally recommend bed rest when your back hurts. When to See a Doctor for Back Pain If your pain is severe or constant, lasts more than two weeks, keeps you from participating in your usual activities, or interrupts your sleep, see a doctor. You should also seek medical care for back pain if you have: Unexplained weight loss Constant or intense pain, especially at night or when you lie down Pain that spreads down your leg, especially below your knee Weakness, numbness or tingling in your legs Swelling or redness on your back Cancer, infection or fracture that may affect your spine Call 911 for emergency medical care if your back pain is the result of a car crash, a bad fall, or a severe sports injury, or if it is causing bowel or bladder problems. Who to See for Back Pain If your back pain is from a strain, sprain, or other mild injury, but it isn’t going away, call your primary care doctor. If the pain is severe, ongoing, or you have numbness or tingling in your arms or legs, you can call a healthcare professional like a chiropractor, physiatrist or orthopedist. You may want to check with your insurance provider first to make sure you understand your coverage for providers who are not medical doctors (medical doctors have MD or DO…

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