Lower back pain (LBP) is the most common type of spine-related pain, partly because this area is often affected by daily movements. Most of the time LBP is only a temporary inconvenience due to strained or overextended muscles, sprained ligaments, or inflamed tissues. Nonetheless, every instance of LBP is unique and shouldn’t be ignored, especially if the resulting discomfort is getting worse or not going away. Here’s how you can tell if your LBP is something serious.
Severity of the Symptoms
The severity of your symptoms is one factor you should consider when determining if your LBP is serious. However, symptom severity can sometimes be misleading. For instance, a strained lower back muscle may produce severe pain for the first few days until the tissue irritation and swelling subsides. On the other hand, LBP from degenerative disc disease (age-worn discs) can result in dull aches that slowly become more distracting over time.
Duration of the Pain
Generally, LBP that doesn’t go away after a few weeks should be reason enough to get a professional opinion. Also, determine if your symptoms are becoming less noticeable after you try common home remedies. Such options include:
- Applying heat or ice periodically to the affected area
- Using over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) or pain relievers
- Getting some rest for a few days
- Modifying your activities and movements
Reaction to Doctor-Recommended Treatments
Your doctor will make an attempt at an initial diagnosis based on your symptoms, medical history, and your account of what movements or activities seem to trigger your discomfort. How serious your back pain is may determine how well you respond to treatments that are initially recommended.
Your doctor will likely schedule a follow-up appointment a few months later to see how you are responding to treatment. If you are seeing little or no improvement, you may be referred to a Los Angeles spine surgeon who uses advanced techniques to identify sources of lower back pain that may include:
- Structural damage in the lower spine
- Uncommon sources such as spasms of the piriformis muscle
- Torn or damaged back-supporting muscles
- Nerve compression or irritation
In some cases, you may have adverse reactions to prescription muscle relaxants, NSAIDs, or painkillers that require a change in treatment recommendations. Let your doctor know immediately if you experience side effects or worsening symptoms.
Symptoms That Demand Immediate Medical Attention
LBP is sometimes an indication of a serious issue that can affect important nerves or functions. In situations like this, symptoms are typically a sign that immediate medical attention is needed. As a general rule, your LBP is considered serious if your symptoms include:
- Radiating pain, numbness, or tingling sensations felt in your thighs, buttocks, hips, or legs
- Severe stomach pain
- High fever
- An inability to maintain stability when walking or standing
- Loss of bowel and/or bladder control
Reduce your risk of experiencing LBP in the first place by watching your posture when you sit, stand, and sleep, drinking plenty of water, being mindful of your diet, and getting regular exercise that includes proper stretching. For discomfort that’s sharp and severe, accompanied by potentially life-threatening symptoms, or not going away after a few weeks, see your doctor or schedule an appointment at The Spine Institute, where Dr. Hyun Bae and his team of expert surgeons have the highest level of expertise in spinal fusion surgery. Los Angeles residents who are seeking relief for their chronic back pain should call 310-828-7757 today.