It has been estimated that up to 80% of the world’s population will experience back pain at some point. Furthermore, back pain is the third most common reason people visit the doctor. But is every incidence of back pain justification for an office visit? In a word, no.
Back pain is one of the most common medical complaints doctors hear. That says nothing of all the people who experience back pain but never talk to their doctors about it. The thing to understand is that most causes of back pain are both temporary and minor. Things tend to resolve on their own more often than not.
So when should you go see the doctor? The pain specialists at Lone Star Pain Medicine in Weatherford, TX offer the following advice:
Pay Attention to Numbness and Weakness
A typical case of strained muscles manifests itself as temporary pain in the lower back. However, if back pain is accompanied by numbness and weakness in the extremities, there is probably something more serious going on. Another warning sign is loss of bowel or bladder control.
Any of these additional symptoms suggests an underlying condition that could result in permanent damage if not addressed quickly. If your back pain is accompanied by numbness, weakness, or loss of bowel or bladder control, make an appointment to see your doctor ASAP.
Pay Attention to Chronic Pain
Nonspecific back pain doesn’t tend to linger for more than a few days. Likewise, pain caused by muscle strains tends to begin subsiding within 72 hours. On the other hand, chronic back pain can last for three months or more. Chronic pain is motivation to see your doctor.
If the combination of over-the-counter pain medications and rest offers no improvement after three months, chances are you are dealing with something serious. You might have a herniated disc. You might be dealing with degenerative disc disease, facet joint syndrome, or even spinal stenosis.
There’s no need to panic over chronic lower back pain, but it’s also not wise to let it go for longer than three months without seeing a doctor. In the meantime, Lone Star pain specialists say it is not a good idea to lay in bed for three months either.
Limited Exercise and Light Activity
The spine and its supporting muscles don’t tend to respond well to continual immobility. Your back needs regular exercise and activity to remain nimble and strong. Obviously, strenuous exercise and heavy manual labor could make your back pain worse. But light activity and limited stretching exercises could actually be good for you.
Over the counter NSAIDs can reduce inflammation in your back. Getting up and walking around can also help. Finally, light to moderate stretching exercises will strengthen your back muscles so that they are better able to support your spine. All three things combined can help alleviate chronic back pain.
Noninvasive Treatments Are Available
The last thing Lone Star Pain Medicine wants patients to know is that there are noninvasive treatments when exercise and OTC medications don’t work. Experiencing chronic back pain for three or four months doesn’t automatically mean that surgery is the only option. For example, a number of injection therapies offer long-term pain relief.
Most incidents of lower back pain are minor and will self-resolve. You do not need to run off to the doctor if you strain your back doing yard work. On the other hand, experiencing numbness, weakness, or loss of bowel and bladder control is motivation to get medical help. Seeing a doctor is also wise if your pain lasts for more than three months.