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Login | September 29, 2023

When back pain becomes persistent

Pete’s World

Published: May 29, 2023

Back pain is something we’ve all experienced at one time or another.
And many times a little rest, some over-the-counter anti-inflammatories and maybe even an ice pack can do the trick.
But when that low back pain just seems to persist with no relief, well, then it’s decision-making time.
Do you seek a medical evaluation or do you soldier on and hope that your self-treatment will eventually work?
This very situation is playing out with one of our relatives right now, where a week into his back malady he’s conflicted as to whether he should continue with his self-treatment or make the doc call.
Indeed, low back pain and its debilitating effects on posture and mobility can be pure misery, and deciding whether or not to see the doc can be a real dilemma.
That’s because muscle strains and sprains, some of the most common causes of back pain can often be remedied with rest and maybe some anti-inflammatories.
But when that home treatment route just doesn’t seem to be yielding any progress, it begs the question: When do you seek medical assistance for your back pain?
So with that query in mind, I’ve put together a little checklist of key questions, the answers of which should help to guide you through making your decision.
1) Is your back pain a pain that doesn't seem to go away? Typically, if the pain persists unabated past the one- to two-week mark despite all your home treatment efforts, you should most definitely make that doctor appointment.
2) Is that back pain more persistent and/or worse when you assume certain body positions such as lying down, sitting down, standing up? If yes, then that could be a signal that something more serious could be involved.
3) Do you have feelings of numbness, tingling, or weakness associated with the back pain? Again, not good signs. Back pain with such exhibiting symptoms anywhere else in the body is another sure signal to seek medical attention.
4) Is that back pain confined to the back or are there ancillary symptoms that affect other parts of the body? For example, experiencing shooting electric bolt pain that travels down the legs is something you want to have checked out immediately. In this example we could be talking about a disk herniation.
5) Is the back pain associated with bowel and/or urinary problems? If a sudden difficulty with these two functions coincides with your back pain, then it’s absolutely time to see the doctor.
6) Finally, is your back pain associated with an unexplainable loss in body weight and/or a fever. If yes then you should seek medical attention. Red flags such as these may indicate an underlying condition such as a spinal infection.
You can also gain a little direction based on what kind of pain you’re experiencing.
Is the back pain acute (pain that’s developed over a short period of time or pain that occurred suddenly) or is the pain chronic (a long standing pain that’s persisted past the usual recovery period)?
Acute pain can oftentimes resolve itself without a medical intervention whereas chronic pain oftentimes cannot.
Now even with that being said, you should still abide by this general rule of thumb: Back pain that lasts more than two weeks without any observable improvement is a back pain that needs to be assessed by a health care professional.
Even an acute back pain resulting from a simple tweak warrants the two week rule, this because your health care professional can make the call as to whether you should continue with your self-treatment or not.
Now there's an even bigger up side to seeking professional assistance…it just might protect you from further damage and increased pain.
That’s because your doc or PT can educate you on proper lifting mechanics as well as proper body posture.
Seeking professional medical advice enables you to find and treat the cause of the problem rather than just treating the pain itself.
What’s more, the simple act of learning how to maintain proper posture and establishing which stretches and exercises could best strengthen your spinal musculature could pay dividends down the road by preventing future episodes of low back pain.
Here’s to keeping that back on track.