Health / Expert Advice

7 Signs That Your Back Pain Is More Serious Than You Think

Pinpoint when icing and rest is not enough, and a doctor’s care is needed.

Back ​injuries are all too common, and unfortunately we often overlook the warning signs.

According to a study by the ​National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke, ​roughly 80 percent of adults have experienced ​lower back ​pain at some point in their lives. This ultimately led to an injury.

In some ​rare​ cases, lower back pain can be linked to the following:

Many of the most common cases of back pain can be traced to vascular causes, specifically in the lower back.

“Swollen veins in the pelvic region can cause lower back pain, pelvic pain, and nerve pain by compressing the nerves that run with the veins through the various narrow pathways in the pelvis. In this manner, venous congestion can masquerade as nerve compression like sciatica,” says Dr. Christopher Hollingsworth an endovascular surgeon at NYC Surgical Associates​.

Not sure if your back pain is serious or not? Below are seven signs that your back aches are more serious than you think.

Persistent Pain

You know that you have a problem when back pain persists even after resting and applying traditional treatments. These include a cold compress or anti-inflammatory drugs.

You should definitely see a medical doctor before the pain gets worse. In some cases a m​inor muscle strain and tear can happen from both a sudden injury or gradual overuse.​ ​

“The most common cause of these aches would be bending and lifting too quickly or incorrectly. A new exercise or other unfamiliar movement can also create inflammation and minor tears in both muscle and connective tissue,” says Tina Martini, a fitness and wellness coach.

Martini goes on to say that the lumbar or lower back is the most susceptible to this type of pain. And keep in mind that back pain can vary for many people.

In some cases it may only last a few weeks, regardless of the treatment you use. In other cases the pain can become chronic and even debilitating.

Change in Bowel Movements

If your bowel and urination habits have changed, this is an indicator that there may be cause for concern. If you are feeling a sense of relief after each bowel movement or experiencing a loss of control in this area, you should see your doctor immediately.

How do the two connect? If the pain is somewhat dull and you are constipated then chances are that the two are correlated. There could be a backup of stool in the colon or rectum that can cause discomfort in your back.

If the pain becomes sharp in your back or stomach, you find blood in your stool, or are experiencing a fever you should see a doctor as soon as possible.

“If you have a ​herniated and bulging disk it can sometimes produce no symptoms at all. However, urinary tract infections, kidney infections, neurogenic bladder, and irritable bowel syndrome (disruption in nerve signals) are considerations [that] can sometimes be linked to back pain,” says Martini.

Challenging Everyday Activities

Trouble with activities of daily living like bending over to put on socks, going to the bathroom, or walking up-stairs is a sign of back pain that needs more medical attention.

This can be simultaneously discouraging and frustrating. It can also affect mental health and cause issues, such as depression, that can impede on everyday life.

According to a case study by the ​National Center for Biotechnology Information​, “Back pain has also emerged as the strongest predictor of major depression. Assessing and treating patients in a manner that integrates psychosocial and biological aspects of care is the essence of excellent family medicine. This case illustrates the importance for primary care physicians of screening for depression and other psychosocial factors in assessing patients with persistent back pain.”

This is just another reason why you should take your pain seriously, rather than put it off.

Change in Balance

If you are finding it difficult to maintain your balance, experiencing dizziness, and/or suffer from loss of spatial relations that include the following, there is an additional cause for concern. This is especially true if these symptoms are accompanied by pelvic, hip, or low back pain:

Difficulty Standing

If you have trouble standing for long periods of time, this could indicate a problem. If the disks and the facet joints of the vertebra become inflamed this can cause possible pain in the lower back while standing.

Martini says, “​It is important to understand that most back pain (problems) do not stem from the spine itself. Common back pain is generally due to muscle, ligament, tendon, and other soft tissue strains.”

In addition, the pain you may be feeling could be linked to degenerative disc disease, as well as spinal stenosis. In both cases, this could affect standing dramatically.

Degenerative disc disease is when discs between the vertebrae break down decreasing the space between them. This ultimately irritates the surrounding nerves.

In the case of spinal stenosis, it’s the pressure of nerves caused by the narrowing of spacing in the spine. You shouldn’t ignore any onset of pain, especially if you have a profession that requires you to stand for an extended amount of time.

Loss of Motor Function

Loss of control over motor function of one or both legs is referred to as drop leg syndrome. This correlates to damage of the sciatic nerve or paralysis of muscles in the anterior portion of the lower leg.

A prime example of this could be ​peripheral neuropathy, that feeling when your foot “goes to sleep.”

This often goes away once we change positions, allowing blood and nerve flow to be restored. Sciatica is a common nerve inflammation that can affect one or both legs. It can show up as pain with numbness, burning, and weakness.

Fever

Fever, back pain, and night sweats and chills could be signs of a serious systemic disease. If these symptoms are accompanied with swollen lymph nodes, high blood pressure, and neurological abnormalities then you should contact your doctor immediately.

“Injuries to the blood vessels and nerves in the cervical spine can bring on the same symptoms as the flu. This is known as thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS). Overuse, sleeping without proper neck support, craning the head forward as we do when looking at our phones, and whiplash can cause TOS. Our neck has to support our heavy heads. Any misalignment will have an effect on both bone and soft tissue. Our c-spine is very fragile and delicate. Cold weather can irritate the neck and shoulder and this could show up at night, in the form of sharp pain, perspiring, and flu-like symptoms. It’s simply the body resetting itself,” says Martini

Everyday habits may increase your pain.

From sleep to exercise, there are several lifestyle tweaks that can help prevent further injury or deter the pain from escalating. ​

Terry Cralle, RN, clinical sleep educator and sleep consultant for Saatva​ says, “ ​Poor sleep can contribute to the development of chronic pain and impair your body’s ability to curb it in general. More than half of Americans experience discomfort in any given week. Half of those with pain say it interferes with their sleep.”

Cralle suggests using pillows strategically. Also, find the best mattress that can offer adequate lumbar support.

If exercise possibly caused your pain, ​chiropractic physician Dr. Rob Bousquet says, “Putting ice on the injured area right away will be the first step (ice for 20 minutes, [then] 60 minutes off, and continue as many cycles as possible [on] the day of the injury).”

Dr. Bosquet adds that the following day you should follow up with stretching, foam rolling, and massaging to help with recovery. If the pain has not subsided after one to two weeks, he recommends that you seek medical attention right away.

It’s important to pay attention to activities that may have contributed to specific back pain. In many cases back pain can occur from a slight strain by lifting something too heavy or sitting for long periods of time.

By simply tweaking bad habits you can correct common back pain. However, for circumstances more serious your should seek medical attention.

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