When to Alert Your Primary Care Physician About Back Pain

Back pain might seem like an unavoidable part of life for some people. Back pain is a common condition, especially among adults. In fact, the American Chiropractic Association said that an estimated 80% of people experience back pain at some point in their lives.

It doesn’t matter if you are experiencing chronic or acute back pain; you must talk to a doctor for diagnosis and treatment. This pain can have a negative effect on every area of your life, making it hard to get through the day when the pain is flaring.

Common Causes of Back Pain

The key to managing back pain is identifying the underlying causes that are causing irritation and inflammation. If you are experiencing pain, it indicates that you have inflammation happening within the body. This inflammation can be caused by a variety of conditions, such as:

  • Structural imbalances
  • Nerve or muscle dysfunction
  • Joint problems
  • Hyperactive pain sensations
  • Muscle strains and sprains
  • Injury
  • Infection

Mild Back Pain: At-Home Remedies

The first sign of back pain isn’t an indication that you need to rush to the doctor’s office. In many situations, the pain will subside with a little bit of rest and care at home.

For example, you might strain your back with improper lifting or intense physical activity. When the muscles are strained or tired, you can rest at home, stretch the muscles, apply ice, and sleep it off. As a result, minor back pain often subsides without medical intervention, and you will feel better in a few days.

Try alternating between heat and cold therapy. For example, apply an ice pack for 20 minutes at a time, several days a week. Also, use a heating pad in a similar manner. Heat increases blood flow to promote healing, and cold reduces inflammation.

If necessary, over-the-counter pain relievers can be helpful in managing your pain. These treatments give you immediate relief and can also offer a way to reduce inflammation and irritation.

Signs You Need to Talk to a Doctor about Severe Back Pain

How do you know when it is time to talk to a doctor about severe back pain? Here are a few signs that you might need an evaluation and medical support for severe pain in the back area:

  • Chronic Pain: Is your pain continuing, even after resting for a few days and applying at-home remedies (like ice and anti-inflammatory medications)? If your pain is ongoing for a week or more, then schedule a consultation with a doctor.
  • Severe, Radiating Pain: How intense is the pain you are experiencing? Severe pain is a sign that you need a diagnosis and medical care. Also, pay attention to where the pain originates and moves through the body. For example, if you have pain shooting down your leg, it is likely affecting both the nerves and muscles.
  • Weakness, Tingling, or Numbness: Back pain that is associated with any of these symptoms indicates that you need to talk to a doctor right away – especially when the tingling, weakness, or numbness occurs after an injury or fall.
  • Certain Positions Aggravate the Pain: How much do your pain levels change depending on your activities throughout the day? If you notice that the pain levels increase with specific activities, share this information with your doctor to facilitate the diagnosis.
  • Unexpected Weight Loss: Are you experiencing unexplained weight loss? Then it could be related to your back pain. Share all symptoms with your doctor, even if the other symptoms seem unrelated.
  • Presence of a Fever: The presence of a fever could be an indication of an infection. When back pain is happening with a fever, then it’s important to seek medical attention right away.
  • Difficulty with Urination or Bowel Function: Sometimes, bowel and urination nerves are affected, which means that your back pain might be contributing to problems with these functions in the body.
  • Trauma: Any time mild, moderate, or severe back pain occurs after an accident or trauma, it’s essential to visit with a doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor will want to complete an evaluation to see if there are many issues that could lead to bigger complications in the future.

As a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t ignore back pain. Your body is sending signals for a reason, so talking to a doctor about your concerns is wise. Leaving the underlying condition untreated can result in a worsening condition, especially if it is caused by chronic muscle spasms or joint degeneration.

Through the diagnosis and treatment process, it’s possible to reduce or eliminate these symptoms, helping you return to a full and thriving lifestyle.

Medical Checkup vs. Emergency Services for Back Pain

In most cases, the recommended course of action is to call your primary care provider or a pain specialist if you are experiencing back pain. But there are times when it might be necessary to head straight to the emergency room for immediate services.

If your pain is so severe that you can’t wait to talk to your regular doctor, head to the nearest emergency department.

It is important to seek medical care when the symptoms develop suddenly, especially after an accident or trauma. Additionally, it could be a sign of an emergency if you have back pain with numbness, weakness, fever, and/or a loss of control in your bowels or urination.

Additionally, certain medical conditions increase the likelihood that you might need emergency medical treatment when you are experiencing back pain. If you have severe back pain and any of these conditions, then emergency services might be necessary:

  • Cancer
  • Known risk factors for fractures, such as osteoporosis
  • Use of intravenous drugs
  • Recent injury and trauma
  • Advanced age
  • Immunosuppression from medication or surgery
  • Ongoing use of steroids
  • Inability to walk
  • Sudden loss of sensations in one or both legs
  • Loss of consciousness

Primary Care Provider: Treatment Options for Back Pain

Most people meet with their primary care provider as the first step to treat back pain. If the pain is mild or moderate, then your doctor might recommend a variety of self-care solutions and activity modifications to promote healing.

Specific exercises can be helpful to strengthen the core and reduce the pressure on the sensitive areas in the back. For example, your doctor might recommend physical therapy, stretching, low-impact aerobics, and gentle exercises.

Other minimally-invasive treatments for back pain include steroid injections, chiropractic care, and massage therapy.

If the pain continues or is increasing in severity, your primary care provider might recommend that you visit with a back pain specialist.

Need a Primary Care Physician?

Are you in need of medical services from a primary care physician? Talk to our team at Colorado Primary Health Care to learn more about available services. Schedule an appointment using our online form or by calling (303) 703-8583.

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