Back pain is a common outcome of fatigue and several activities that we undertake on a daily basis. Standing or sitting for long periods of time, having to bend over frequently, twisting the back, carrying heavy weights, and wrong posture – all of these can cause back pain. And this is normal as long as the pain is not severe, recurring or long-term.
In chronic back pain, the back pain appears suddenly and develops over time or intensifies gradually over several days or a few weeks. Mere OTC drugs will not help alleviate the symptoms and a more thorough examination is required to know the underlying cause and treat that accordingly.
5 Signs of an Emergency
Back pain that follows a fall or an injury and does not go away after 2-3 days, or worsens with time, requires emergency medical attention. In addition to this, there are certain signs that indicate a larger or more serious condition. 5 such signs include:
Severe pain accompanied by weakness in the legs or hamstring muscles
Severe pain accompanied by bladder or bowel incontinence (loss of control)
This could be due to compression of the nerves that serve the bladder or bowel. Or it could be due to a spinal infection such as meningitis or discitis. It could also be due to a condition called cauda equina syndrome in which nerves in the lower back are paralyzed. It could also indicate multiple sclerosis.
Numbness, tingling or a lack of sensation in the saddle region (lower hips or groin, buttocks, and inner thighs)
Also called saddle anesthesia, these symptoms are indicative of a spinal or nerve condition.
Severe pain that starts from the back but radiates to the front abdomen, knees and ankles
The causes include fracture of the hip bone, cancer, and will vary depending on the organ concerned. In case of pain in the stomach, it could indicate internal bleeding, abdominal aortic aneurysm or even cancer. Cancer that starts in the spine region and has metastasized to other organs such as the prostate, kidney, lung and breast also causes such radiating pain.
Back pain that worsens at night and prevents the person from sleeping:
This could be due to an infection, torn ligament, torn muscle or dysfunction of an internal organ in the back or side. It could also be due to a back fracture sustained from a fall, motor vehicle accident or sporting injury.
Other red flags that indicate an emergency
It is possible one does not experience any of the above 5 signs. Nevertheless, there are other red flags. Back-pain accompanied by any of the following is indicative of something serious:
A severe pain between the sternum, which lies in the center of the chest, and the belly button
A throbbing mass in the abdomen, which can be felt through the skin and feels sensitive to touch
Rapid heartbeat and shallow breathing
Cold and clammy skin
General weakness and loss of consciousness
Confusion and anxiety
Difficulty in passing urine, poor stream and lack of desire to urinate
Diagnosing the underlying cause for back pain involves imaging tests such as X-ray, MRI, CT and bone scans. Blood tests and nerve studies such as Electromyography may also be called for, by the doctors.
Treatment options include medication, physiotherapy and surgical procedures.
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers: NSAIDs like naproxen and ibuprofen
NOTE: Take medications only when prescribed by your doctors, self-medication must be avoided under any circumstances.
Kauvery Hospital is globally known for its multidisciplinary services at all its Centers of Excellence, and for its comprehensive, Avant-Grade technology, especially in diagnostics and remedial care in heart diseases, transplantation, vascular and neurosciences medicine. Located in the heart of Trichy (Tennur, Royal Road and Alexandria Road (Cantonment), Chennai, Hosur, Salem and Bengaluru, the hospital also renders adult and pediatric trauma care.