Lumbar (lower back) pain is the fifth most common reason people seek medical attention – this, despite the fact that most low back pain is benign and will eventually subside with rest, over-the-counter medications and physical therapy.
But what if it doesn’t? What if your lumbar pain is a symptom of a more serious condition?
There are several ways to tell if lumbar pain is something you need to worry about – and need to have your doctor examine as soon as possible. The good news is that many common problems – such as a “pulled muscle” – are often less serious than you’d expect and can be treated quite easily. Nevertheless, a small portion of back pain – about 1 percent – is caused by such condition as spinal cord damage, autoimmune disease, or cancer. Here are some signs that you may need to worry that your lumbar pain may be more than you think.
· Has your back pain been bothering you for more than six weeks?
· Is your pain so severe that it is not improving or is it getting progressively worse?
· Are you experiencing light tapping of the spine, fever, weight loss, slow urination, incontinence, groin numbness, or tingling or weakness in both legs?
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes” – particularly numbness, incontinence or lack of bladder control – don’t wait to see if these symptoms go away. Treat them as an emergency as these symptoms may indicate a spinal cord injury or compression, requiring immediate medical attention.
Better Safe than Sorry
If you have difficulty urinating, incontinence, numbness in the groin area, or weakness in addition to having low back pain, it could be a sign that a disease is progressing. While these symptoms don’t necessarily mean you have a serious condition, they do warrant close scrutiny to be safe rather than sorry. To confirm or rule out a fracture, a herniated disk, or a tumor, your doctor will order an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Your doctor will also consider any risk factors you may have – such as HIV, steroid or drug use, or a family history of autoimmune disease – and other red flags before reaching a diagnosis and recommending treatment.
How can I know the difference?
If there was a moment when you went from fine to pain, your pain is very real but chances are your injury is not serious. For example, if you sneeze, participate in an especially grueling workout, or moved furniture, you very likely will be sore. As for lower right or left back pain, neither is particularly worrisome and often stems from either a strained muscle or a possible kidney stone, which is certainly painful but not serious depending on how quickly the stone is passed. If the pain has continued for days, or weeks, and you notice any of the above signs, then consider that your condition merits expert medical attention sooner than later.
Once your doctor diagnoses the cause of your lower back pain, he or she can recommend treatment or refer you – in the case of a ruptured or herniated disk or other musculoskeletal condition or injury – to an orthopedist.
The team at Watauga Orthopaedics will work with you and your physician to develop your customized and multidisciplinary healing plan. For orthopedic excellence in the Tri-Cities area of northeastern Tennessee, visit Watauga Orthopaedics. We have offices in Johnson City and Kingsport to serve you. Schedule an appointment online click here or call (423) 282-9011.