When back pain is serious and what to do about it

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When most people experience back pain, they usually take over-the-counter medicine and wait for the pain to disappear. But, sometimes, back pain is more serious and might require a visit to the doctor. Back pain is one of the most common types of pain, and it can be caused by several things, from strained muscles to disc problems. While most back pain goes away on its own, there are times when it’s serious and requires medical attention.

In this article, we’ll talk about the different types of back pain and help you determine when your back pain is serious and what to do about it. We’ll also cover some of the most common treatments for back pain. So, if you’re experiencing back pain, read this for some helpful advice.

  • You would normally know when back ache is serious if:
    • There has been a recent change in your bowel or bladder habits
    • If you are having chest pain or difficulty in breathing
    • The pain is accompanied by other symptoms
    • The pain radiates down one or both legs
    • The pain is moderate to severe and does not improve with rest
    • You are experiencing an unexplained weight loss
    • You are having difficulty standing or walking
    • The pain wakes you up from sleep
    • It is the result of an injury
    • It is caused by a disease
    • It is accompanied by fever

Different types of back pain

There are different types of back pain, which is why it is important to see a doctor to determine the cause. Some common types of back pain are: 

Acute back pain: This is pain that comes on suddenly and usually lasts for a short period of time. The pain may be severe, but it typically goes away within a few days or weeks.

Chronic back pain: This is back pain that lasts for more than three months. The pain may be mild or severe, and it may come and go.

Non-specific back pain: This is the most common type of back pain. It doesn’t have a specific cause, and it can’t be easily diagnosed.

Back sprain or strain: This is caused by overstretching or tearing the muscles or ligaments in your back.

Sciatica: This is a type of nerve pain that affects the sciatic nerve, which runs down your leg. It’s caused by problems such as a slipped disk in your spine, and it can be quite painful.

Spondylosis: This is a condition that affects the disks between the vertebrae in your spine. It can cause pain and stiffness in your back.

Acute back pain


Back pain is a common problem, but it’s not always just a case of muscle strains or tension. Pain in the back can be a sign of something more serious, such as an underlying health condition. This is why it’s important to know when back pain is serious and when you should see a doctor for help. Here are some common signs that back pain is serious:

  • There has been a recent change in your bowel or bladder habits. This could be a sign that something is seriously wrong. Back pain can be a sign of a more serious problem, such as a spinal tumor, infection or fracture. If you experience this, you should see a doctor right away.
  • If you’re having difficulty breathing, chest pain or a rapid heartbeat, it’s important to seek medical help right away. These could be signs of a serious medical emergency. Back pain is rarely a sign of a serious problem, but it’s still important to get it checked out by a doctor. Severe back pain that comes on suddenly can be a sign of a spinal fracture, tumor, or infection.
  • The pain is accompanied by other symptoms. One sign that your back pain might be serious is if it’s accompanied by other symptoms. For example, if you’re having difficulty breathing, numbness in your limbs, chest pain, or rectal bleeding, then it’s definitely time to see a doctor. These symptoms could be a sign of something more serious, like a heart attack or a stroke. So it’s important to get checked out as soon as possible, especially if the pain is severe or doesn’t seem to be going away.

Pain that radiates down one or both legs:

There’s a type of back pain that radiates down one or both legs. When you have pain in the lower back that travels down your legs, it could be sciatica. It’s caused by a pinched nerve in your spine and can come with other symptoms, such as tingling, burning or numbness. Sciatica occurs when pressure is put on the sciatic nerve. This pain typically originates in the lower back and then shoots through the buttocks and down one leg. It affects only one side of the body at a time and can range from mild to severe.

If you’re experiencing sciatica, long periods of sitting or standing can make it worse. So, it’s important to keep moving and changing positions throughout the day as much as possible. Stretching can also help alleviate symptoms, as well as such exercises as yoga and Pilates that target your core muscles. If you aren’t able to find relief with lifestyle changes, talk to your doctor about treatment options such as physical therapy or medications that may reduce inflammation and relieve pain.

Pain that is moderate to severe and does not improve with rest:

If your pain is moderate to severe and doesn’t seem to get any better with rest or hot/cold treatments, you may want to seek medical attention. Moderate pain can sometimes turn into chronic pain that can last for weeks or even months. It may be a sign of a more serious issue like a slipped disk, sciatica, scoliosis or arthritis.

In this situation, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor, who will examine you and then recommend the best course of treatment for your specific back issue. Depending on the diagnosis, treatments could range from medication to physical therapy to spinal injections. In some cases, surgery might be necessary to reduce pressure on nerves and improve your overall quality of life.

Unexplained weight loss:

Unexplained loss of weight


Unexplained weight loss is a possible sign of a serious underlying issue and should not be taken lightly. Losing too much weight for no apparent reason can indicate a variety of medical issues, such as infections, digestive diseases, and even cancer. For example, sudden weight loss can occur when the body doesn’t absorb nutrients from the food you eat, or it may be caused by hormones that are out of balance in the body. If you have experienced any unexplained weight loss associated with back pain in the past few weeks or months, it’s important to make an appointment with your doctor right away. Your doctor will ask questions about your health history and do a physical exam to determine if there is an underlying cause. They may also order additional tests to rule out any serious issues like cancer or infection. Once they have identified the cause of the weight loss and back pain, they can create an appropriate treatment plan for you.

Difficulty standing or walking

If you notice any difficulty standing or walking, your back pain might be serious. This could be due to nerve damage, slipping disks or a tumor.

Difficulty standing or walking


Your back pain that causes difficulty standing or walking is often associated with pain in your legs, numbness, or tingling. It is important to take these symptoms seriously and see a doctor right away, as they may indicate something more serious than just a muscle strain or sprain.

Your doctor may recommend physical therapy, medications, or even surgery, depending on the severity of your pain and its cause. He/she may also order tests to find out if there are any underlying conditions, such as diabetes, an infection, or arthritis that could be causing discomfort in your back. Understanding when your back pain is serious is key to seeking timely treatment, so it does not get worse over time. If you are having difficulty standing or walking due to back pain, make sure you consult with your doctor for a diagnosis and appropriate care plan right away.

Pain that wakes you up from sleep

Pain that wakes you up from a sound sleep can be cause for concern, as it could be a sign of something more serious. Usually, if you experience back pain that’s severe enough to wake you up from sleep, it’s a good indicator that something more serious is going on.

For example, it could be an indication of a herniated disk or even an infection. In this scenario, it’s best to consult with your doctor immediately and get an MRI or CT scan to rule out any serious medical conditions. It’s also important to keep a log of your symptoms and any activities that make your pain worse or better. This information can help your doctor determine the underlying cause of your back pain and recommend treatments accordingly.

The result of an injury


When it is the result of an injury

Now, let’s talk about when your back pain might be caused by an injury. The first thing you should do is rest and watch if it gets better. If the pain persists or gets worse, then you may have injured yourself. In this case, it’s best to see a doctor as soon as possible.

Depending on the severity of your injury, the doctor may suggest a variety of treatments, such as ice therapy, rest, physical therapy, or even surgery. Generally, the most common treatment for injuries is physical therapy because it helps you develop a routine for strengthening your muscles and relieving tension. The physical therapist may also recommend specific exercises that target the area of injury and help reduce pain and inflammation. If your back pain is still severe after a couple of weeks, then you may need to consider surgery or other more intensive treatments, such as cortisone shots or nerve blocks, to alleviate your symptoms.

When it is caused by a disease

If your back pain is caused by a disease, it may be more serious and require medical attention. Some of the diseases that can cause back pain include spinal arthritis, cancer, osteoporosis, scoliosis, and ankylosing spondylitis.

If you’re in any doubt about whether or not your pain is serious, talk to a medical professional. They will be able to examine you and tell you if you have any of these conditions. Depending on the diagnosis, they may prescribe medication or physical therapy to help reduce the pain. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to address underlying issues. Don’t hesitate to get medical advice; it’s important that you take action if your back pain is severe or persistent. Your doctor can help diagnose the cause of your problem and recommend the best course of treatment for you.

It is accompanied by fever

Accompanied by fever


If your back pain is accompanied by a fever, it’s a sign that the pain might be due to an infection. This is something you’ll want to take seriously and address as soon as possible since an untreated infection can lead to further health complications. Some of the common signs of an infection are a fever, chills, night sweats, and feeling generally unwell. If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor right away. Depending on the cause of the infection, you might be prescribed antibiotics or other medications.

Causes of chronic and acute back pain

Back pain can be caused by various conditions, both acute and chronic. Acute back pain is usually caused by injury or a strain on the back muscles, while chronic back pain is typically caused by any number of underlying conditions, such as poor posture, weak core muscles, or medical conditions, such as arthritis. Common causes of acute back pain can include injuries from sports or physical activities, car accidents, falls, or overexertion from lifting something too heavy. Chronic back pain can be caused by anything from poor posture to an existing medical condition such as sciatica or osteoporosis. Additionally, other medical conditions like fibromyalgia, spinal stenosis, herniated disks, and scoliosis may also be causing your chronic back pain.

Lastly, many people have no underlying cause of their back pain whatsoever. In these cases, it could simply be due to day-to-day stress or tension that’s being held in your body without you realizing it. Regardless of the cause of your back ache and discomfort, it’s important to talk to your doctor if you’re in any pain so they can figure out what’s really going on and treat it accordingly.

When to seek medical attention for back pain

If you’ve been dealing with constant back pain or any sharp and sudden pains that won’t go away, it might be time to seek medical attention. You should also seek help if the pain comes with other warning signs like fever, weakness, numbness, or any other sensations in the legs.  

Always be sure to get a checkup if your back pain is accompanied by chest pain, shortness of breath, abdominal pain, or any other unexpected feelings. Do not try to diagnose yourself; any warning sign should always be taken seriously and treated immediately by seeking out medical help. If you’re ever having issues like these while experiencing back pain, go to your nearest emergency room as soon as possible.

Diagnostic tests for back pain

If your back pain is still lingering after trying a few home remedies and lifestyle changes, it may be time to see a healthcare professional. They’ll likely have you undergo a series of tests to get to the root of the problem. Here’s what you need to know about common tests and treatments for back pain:

X-Rays: X-rays are used to diagnose fractures, tumors, and other skeletal problems that cause back pain. They help doctors determine if there is any damage to the spine and if any surgery is necessary.

MRI/CT Scan: MRI or CT scans take pictures and show soft tissue like cartilage, ligaments, muscles, and disks in your spine. These tests are used to identify any issues with your muscles, nerves, or spinal cord that could be causing your pain.

Blood Tests: Blood tests can help identify diseases and infections that may be causing your back pain, such as arthritis, lupus, or ankylosing spondylitis. Your doctor may also order other specialized tests, such as erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) or C-reactive protein (CRP) tests, to monitor levels of inflammation in your body.

Treatment options for severe back pain

If the back pain is severe and persistent, there are a variety of treatment options available. Depending on the severity of your back pain, you may need more than one approach to getting relief.

One option is surgery. Depending on the cause of your back pain, surgery may be necessary to repair damaged disks or nerves in your spine. Surgery can also be used to correct any structural issues that are contributing to your back pain.

Another treatment option is physical therapy. Physical therapy can help reduce inflammation and strengthen the muscles around your spine. This can help reduce pressure on your spine and improve your range of motion and flexibility.

You can also try over-the-counter or prescription medications to manage inflammation and reduce or eliminate pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen are usually recommended first, but opioids may be prescribed if other medications are not effective.

Finally, lifestyle modifications may be necessary to keep your back healthy in the long run. Avoiding activities that put excess strain on your spine, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a nutritious diet, finding ways to reduce stress, and getting enough sleep all to contribute to overall spine health and well-being.


How to relieve back pain at home

Fortunately, there are lots of ways you can relieve back pain at home without seeing a doctor. Here are some tips:

  1. Heat or ice packs: Placing a hot or cold pack on your back can help reduce inflammation and stiffness. Heat therapy can be especially useful for people with muscle tension in their backs.
  2. Stretching and exercise: Doing stretches and exercises designed to strengthen your core muscles help support your spine and can reduce back pain.
  3. Massage therapy: Massage is essential for targeting and relieving tight muscles in the back, neck, hips, and other parts of the body.
  4. Posture correction: Paying attention to how you’re sitting or standing can help you maintain better posture and improve core strength. This can alleviate pressure on the spine.
  5. Lifting techniques: Make sure to lift heavy objects properly by keeping your back straight instead of bending at the spine. It’s also important to keep the load close to your body when lifting so that your legs, not your back, bear the weight.

Prevention tips for avoiding or reducing back pain

When it comes to avoiding or reducing back pain, there are some important prevention tips that you should be aware of. Here are a few key tips that you can put into practice right away:

  1. Exercise regularly: Regular exercise can help strengthen your muscles and keep your spine in good condition.
  2. Maintain good posture: Poor posture puts extra stress on your spine and can lead to back pain. Make sure you’re sitting up straight, with your shoulders back and feet flat on the floor.
  3. Lift properly: When lifting objects, always use proper form to avoid putting an unnecessary strain on your back muscles. Bend with your knees and keep the load close to your body as you lift it up.
  4. Stretch regularly: Take time to stretch each day, which helps improve flexibility and reduce tension in the muscles around your spine.
  5. Wear comfortable shoes: Wearing shoes with good arch support can reduce strain on the lower back while walking or running.

By following these simple prevention tips, you should be able to significantly reduce your risk of developing back pain or other related issues.

Risks of leaving severe back pain untreated

We’ve established that serious back pain can be anything from nerve damage to a sign of an underlying medical condition. But what risks are associated with leaving serious back pain untreated?

First and foremost, ignoring the source of your back pain can result in long-term damage to your muscles and nerves. Without getting proper treatment, you may suffer from reduced mobility, devastating weakness, and chronic pain. All of these can be avoided by seeking help right away.

Another issue is that severe back pain can lead to depression and other mental health issues if it’s not diagnosed and treated quickly. This is especially true when chronic back pain leads to long-term bed rest or limited physical activity, which can really take a toll on your overall well-being. Finally, not treating your back condition could cause other complications, such as constipation or urinary tract infections, which are not exactly pleasant outcomes. All in all, it’s best to get your back condition checked by a doctor so they can diagnose and treat it properly before things get worse.


Back pain can vary from mildly irritating to completely debilitating. It’s often a symptom of another problem, such as an injury, spinal stenosis, or a slipped disk. In other cases, back pain may be a sign of a serious medical condition, such as cancer.

Treatment for back pain depends on the underlying cause. In most cases, however, simple measures, such as rest, ice, and ibuprofen, can provide relief. More serious cases may require surgery or other treatments. If you are experiencing back pain, it’s important to see a doctor to determine the cause and to get appropriate treatment.

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