Back pain is a common reason for absence from work and for seeking medical treatment. It can be uncomfortable and debilitating. The back pain can result from injury, activity and some medical conditions.
It can affect people of any age, for different reasons. As people get older, the chance of developing lower back pain increases, due to factors such as previous occupation and degenerative disk disease.
Among all the back pains, it’s the lower back that affects 1 in every 8 people. It may be linked to the bony lumbar spine, discs between the vertebrae, ligaments around the spine and discs, spinal cord and nerves, lower back muscles, abdominal and pelvic internal organs, and the skin around the lumbar area.
But when back pain is more than just a nuisance, getting it checked by a doctor can make all the difference in preventing a more serious health issue. Here, experts share the back pains you shouldn’t wait out or completely ignore:
Back Pain With Loss Of Bladder Control
If you suffer from back pain paired with the inability to regulate your bladder or bowel movements, that’s a sign you need to head to the ER.
“This means there’s something in the spinal canal, such as a disc herniation or lesion, compressing your nerves to the extent that it’s affected the nerves of the bladder and bowel, creating temporary paralysis,” Anand said. “If this nerve is compressed for too long, it can be difficult for it to recover and function normally again.”
Back Pain With Fevers
If you suffer back pain along with fever, it’s something to think about seriously and may be a sign of something more serious like an infection, according to David Anderson, a spine surgeon at OrthoCarolina in Monroe, North Carolina.
“This is exceedingly rare, and of course people can have fevers for all kinds of reasons, but when it comes with continuous back pain, it can cause worry for an epidural abscess [a collection of pus that can affect the brain or spinal cord],” he said.
Back Pain With Accompanying Leg Pain
According to David Anderson, back pain along with leg pain can be deeply painful and this can be caused by a bone spur (small projections that develop along bone edges), disc herniation (a problem with a rubber-like disk between the spinal bones) or stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal that happens slowly).
And while stenosis can’t be completely cured, Anderson added that many people with this chronic condition can easily learn what their triggers are and how to manage their symptoms so they become tolerable in day-to-day life.
Upper Back Pain Near The Neck
“A lot of people get pain in their upper back below the neck and think it’s back pain, but it’s not,” Anand said. “That pain is coming from your neck, and the reason it’s different is that that’s your spinal cord. You actually have the spinal cord running through your neck, which is a direct extension of your brain.”
If you have upper back pain along with weakness in the hands, or you observe you’re walking unsteadily and have changes in your gait, it could be a sign something is going on in your spinal cord that needs to be checked by a doctor.
“People may assume that things like difficulty with buttons on their shirts or putting in earrings is common with old age and possibly due to arthritis, but if this is happening continuously, you need to see a doctor and get a neurologic exam,” Anand said. “If caught early, damage can be prevented but if the spinal cord is affected, it often does not get better.”