When Is Back Pain More Than Just an Annoyance?

When Is Back Pain More Than Just an Annoyance?

Do you have back pain when you sit or stand up? There is a crucial moment when it becomes more than just a pain in the back.

Nagging back pain is common – 80 percent of Americans will suffer from debilitating back pain at some point in their lifetime. Usually, there is no identifiable cause, and it eventually goes away on its own with rest and proper care.

But there are times when chronic and acute back pain can signal a more serious problem. How can you tell the difference? Consider these warning signs.

Tingling sensation and/or cramps that radiate or shoot down your legs

If you can’t remember injuring yourself but have a tingling sensation or shooting pain, it could be spinal stenosis or a herniated disc caused by pinching and pressure on the spinal nerves. This type of pain is associated with damage to the nerves that leave the spinal cord at the base of the spine.

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Back pain with fever or chills

You could have a serious bacterial infection or virus. One study found that 40 percent of chronic lower back pain cases could be traced back to bacterial infections. In most cases, antibiotic treatment clears the infection and eliminates back pain.

Trouble urinating or with bowel movements

If your back pain is accompanied by problems with going to the bathroom, it could be a symptom of damage to the nerves in your tailbone. This is a serious medical issue that requires immediate attention.

Unexplained weight loss, weakness or pain that worsens when you lie on your back

These symptoms may signal a tumor on your spine or in your lower back area. See a doctor immediately.

Back pain after trauma or a fall

If your pain occurs after you have fallen or experienced a trauma such as a car accident, you could be suffering from a fracture.

About 90 percent of back pain clears up after six weeks with proper rest and care. Exercise also can alleviate back pain.

“Mild injuries to the spine are common and affect people at all stages of their life,” said Christopher Ornelas, MD, assistant professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery at Keck School of Medicine of USC and an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in non-operative spinal disorders at the USC Spine Center at Keck Medicine of USC. “The cause of injury varies, but often pain is related to simple strains. Most back pain resolves without any treatment and simple treatments such as ice or heat may be the best initial options.”

If your pain lasts longer, becomes unbearable or you experience any of the issues above, your doctor might suggest a steroid injection or surgery to make the pain go away.

“Someone should consider seeing a spine specialist if they sustained trauma with the onset of pain, if the pain does not resolve or appears to be worsening,” Dr. Ornelas said. “Patients should seek immediate attention if there is weakness or loss of bowel or bladder control.”

If you suffer from back pain, consult the experts at the USC Spine Center at Keck Medicine of USC.

If you are in the Los Angeles area, book an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting https://spine.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/.

By Heidi Tyline King