When To See A Doctor For Back Pain
Almost all of us will experience back pain at some point in our lives. In most cases, back pain will get better without medical treatment, but some symptoms should prompt you to set up an appointment with a Summit spine specialist.
Research tells us that 85 to 90 percent of us will deal with back pain at one point or another. Most people will not need medical treatment; 95 percent of those who experience back pain get better within three months. However, there are some symptoms that should receive immediate medical attention.
Something as minor as a poor night’s rest or a bout of overly enthusiastic activity can trigger spine pain. The majority of people who experience discomfort can treat their pain with rest, over-the-counter medications, and appropriate gentle exercise. However, in some cases further medical attention is required.
Symptoms to watch for
If you experience any of the symptoms listed below, it would be appropriate to consult a physician specializing in spine at Summit Orthopedics.
- Severe back pain. This is back pain that lasts longer than one week without getting any better or that is progressively getting worse.
- Leg weakness and/or numbness. Weakness and/or numbness that travels into the groin, hip and legs may indicate compression of a nerve in the spine. If left untreated, this may result in permanent nerve damage.
- Limiting back pain. This is pain that limits or prevents you from doing your daily activities or work duties.
A focus on nonsurgical treatment
The Summit spine group believes in a conservative approach to treating back pain. Our physicians and physical therapists develop a treatment plan unique to you because we know that no two people are the same. If a conservative treatment plan does not provide relief, your spine team will collaborate with you to consider next steps that are appropriate, cost efficient, and effective to resolve your pain.
When to see a doctor for back pain: Additional signs
In addition to the types of back pain described above, there are other symptoms that signal more serious conditions; these should be addressed without delay. If you experience back pain along with any of the following symptoms, seek immediate medical attention:
- Sudden loss of bowel or bladder control. This may signal cauda equina syndrome. This rare but serious condition is a medical emergency caused by severe compression of the nerves in the lower spine. Without immediate treatment, this syndrome can cause permanent paralysis and impaired bladder or bowel control.
- Color changes in your legs or feet. Back pain accompanied by color changes in legs or feet could indicate serious conditions, including spinal stenosis, peripheral artery disease, or cancer. The symptoms should be promptly evaluated.
- Severe, continuous abdominal pain. If your back pain is accompanied by sharp, severe, and ongoing abdominal pain, it could be an indication of an enlarged artery in the abdomen, called an abdominal aortic aneurysm. If the vessel ruptures, it can cause a serious medical emergency.
- Persistent fever. Fever can be an indication of an infection in the spine, which may arise slowly in a compromised immune system, and can also occur following surgery. Although rare, spinal infections can cause an epidural abscess and damage gross motor function.
When you understand how to evaluate your back pain symptoms, you’ll be in a better position to know how to handle those symptoms and when to seek medical attention.
Summit Orthopedics offers comprehensive spine expertise
Summit Orthopedics’ Spine Care program is recognized by the National Committee for Quality Assurance for the comprehensive expertise of our patient-centered care. Our back specialists diagnose spine problems and design custom treatment plans built on a conservative, nonsurgical approach. Most patients find relief through treatments including guided injections, specialized physical therapy, biofeedback, exercise, activity modification, and medication. When conservative care does not relieve symptoms, our highly skilled surgeons offer proven, evidence-based surgical options. Together with you, we will determine the right course of action.
Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MN, Plymouth, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as additional community clinics throughout the metro and southern Minnesota.
Spine related resources
- Watch the video on Knowing When to Seek Treatment for Spine Pain
- Check out additional information on Summit’s approach to spine care
- See Summit’s treatment options for neck, back, and spine care
More resources for you
- Ask Dr. Clary: What is a vertebral compression fracture?
- Meet Physical Medicine And Rehabilitation Specialist Dr. Pooja Mundrati
- Ask Dr. Wahlquist: What Conditions May Cause Back Pain?
- The Link Between Weight And Back Pain
- Ask Dr. Sabers: When Should I Have My Spine Pain Medically Evaluated?
- Dr. Mundrati’s Top Tip To Manage Back Pain
Learn the headache pain symptoms that should be medically evaluated.
Ask the Expert: Spine Video Series
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