When Is Back Pain Actually a Medical Emergency?

Back pain is one of the most common ailments suffered by people of all ages. Whether it’s from a muscle strain, acute trauma, disc problems or nerve damage, back pain presents itself in many forms. Also, since back pain is such a common condition, many people try to cope with their injury and avoid heading into a specialist’s office. But what happens when back pain is actually caused by a serious condition? Today, we explain when back pain is actually a medical emergency.

Serious Back Pain Symptoms

As we mentioned above, back pain comes in a variety of forms and presents a range of symptoms, but if you experience any of the following issues, you’ll want to seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Leg Weakness/Loss of Bowel Control – If your back pain is accompanied by leg weakness or sudden bladder/bowel dysfunction, you’ll want to see a doctor right away. This may be a sign of serious nerve compression.

Unexplained Weight Loss/Loss of Appetite – If your back pain goes in waves but you’ve noticed that you aren’t hungry or you’ve lost desire to eat some of your favorite foods, swing into a physician’s office. Sometimes a tumor or cancer can trigger weight loss and diet issues.

Inability to Stand or Walk – If pain is so intense that it’s limiting mobility, odds are the condition isn’t going to resolve on its own. A spine surgeon can conduct a few tests to get to the root of the pain and walk you through a plan to get you back on your feet.

Severe Headaches – Back pain that is accompanied by headaches, especially ones that worsen when you stand and get better with you lie down, may indicate that there’s been a drop in spinal fluid pressure. This is more common if you’ve had a recent spine operation as the dura mater may have accidently been punctured, resulting in a loss of spinal fluid pressure. This can resolve on its own, but is headaches linger for more than 48 hours, head into the surgeon’s office.

Fever – If your spine pain is couple with an elevated body temperature, there’s a chance you’re dealing with an infection. The sooner you see a doctor, the quicker treatment can begin, which can help limit the damage caused by the infection.

Treating Serious Spine Pain

The above symptoms all indicate different issues, so there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to treating serious spine pain. There is, however, a standard order of care that can help get you on the path to recovery. That process begins when you step into a spine specialist’s office. The doctor will perform a comprehensive physical exam, pour over your medical history and ask you about your symptoms. This will help them get a baseline understanding of your pain, and come up with a few possible reasons as to what’s causing your pain.

The next step is to confirm the diagnosis. This is usually done with an X-Ray, MRI or CT scan, but for infections and other issues, blood tests may be ordered. Once the doctor has confirmed your diagnosis, you can begin formulating treatment strategies. For infections or issues caused by inflammation, rest and antibiotics/anti-inflammatory medications may be all you need. For slightly more serious cases, other conservative options like exercise, physical therapy and cortisone injections may be necessary. In severe instances or in cases where conservative treatment is unlikely to cure the issue, surgery may be your best option. Your surgeon will walk you through your specific surgical options based on your exact situation.

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