According to the American Chiropractic Association, more than one-half of all working Americans say they suffer from some type of back pain. It results in more than 264 million lost work days each year—that’s two days for every full-time worker in the country.
We all experience back pain at one time or another, and usually it is little more than fatigue. However sometimes back pain might be an indication of a more serious problem.
Don Mascarenhas, MD, is a physiatrist with Kettering Brain & Spine. His job is to work alongside his surgical colleagues to investigate the causes of his patients’ back pain in his patients and determine whether less-invasive treatments might help.
“Most of my patients come in with low back ache and discomfort.” Dr. Mascarenhas said. There are multiple treatments, but we need to know the cause and severity of the problem.
Here are five indicators it may be time to visit the doctor.
1. It doesn’t go away. If you are experiencing conventional pack pain, and it is not improving after two to four weeks, it might be time to talk to the doctor. When over-the-counter medications and rest don’t help, a more thorough check may be warranted.
2. You experience numbness or tingling in any body parts. If you are experiencing a “pins and needles” feeling that won’t go away, it could be a symptom of nerve damage.
3. Any sudden onset of weakness in the limbs, arms and legs that is not associated with another known condition or injury, could require an examination. If the weakness is associated with pain in the back, the doctor will want to check to see it is not caused by something else.
4. You experience loss of bladder or bowel control. When back discomfort is accompanied by a sudden and noticeable dysfunction of the bladder or bowel, that means something could be pressing on the spinal cord and should be evaluated immediately.
5. You have flu-like symptoms. If you are experiencing significant fever, nighttime discomfort, excessive pain in the back and/or unexplained weight loss, you should have it checked as soon as possible. This may be an indicator of a more serious condition.
There are some ways you can help to prevent back aches as well. First, take breaks during prolonged activities, such as gardening, driving, sitting for extended periods of time, or any sedentary activity. You can also help your back by staying active with mild to moderate activity.
If your back pain persists or there is a recent change in its intensity you should mention it to your doctor. There could be simple, noninvasive ways to treat your pain, including exercise, stretches and physical therapy.