HealthONE - May 25, 2018

Back pain is something many people will have or have experienced in the past. At least 80 percent of Americans will experience back pain at some point in their lives.

Back pain is not something you should ignore, especially if it’s chronic. Back pain that is manageable or doesn’t give you a lot of discomfort is often caused by a strain, which occurs when muscles or tendons in the back are overworked. However, severe or persistent back pain is something for which you should see a doctor.

How do you know if back pain is just a sprain, or a symptom of a bigger health problem? 

You have pain or weakness in your legs
Pain that starts in the lower back and spreads to the legs is also known as sciatica. This type of pain may be a sign of something more serious, like a herniated disk or spinal stenosis. Both of these conditions can cause the space around the spinal nerves to narrow, which might lead to nerve pain and irritation.

The pain in your legs might be dull or severe, come and go in quick bursts, and feel worse when coughing or sneezing. Pain caused by a herniated disk usually travels down one side of the body, whereas pain from spinal stenosis affects both legs.

In most cases, pain that is the result of sciatica or a herniated disk will improve within six to eight weeks, without the need for surgery. However, consult a doctor immediately if pain in your legs (or arms) lasts longer than a week, increases in severity, or is also accompanied by muscle weakness and bladder/bowel control issues.

You lose control of your bladder or bowel
If you can’t empty your bladder or go to the bathroom, you need to seek medical attention right away. Needless to say, don’t wait to see a doctor if you’re experiencing these symptoms.

Your body feels stiff in the morning
Some people might experience stiffness combined with back pain when they first wake up or in the first few hours of the morning. This combination of back pain and stiffness could be a sign of spinal arthritis.

We tend to think of arthritis as a condition that affects the hands and knees. In fact, some types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, can cause back pain, particularly in the lower back (lumbar) region. Arthritis can cause pain and stiffness that worsens toward the end of the day, and also after a long period of rest, like sleeping.

Instead of hoping your back pain will just go away, talk to your doctor about your symptoms and treatment options. Taking a proactive approach to your health is the best way to prevent further medical issues and reduce your risk of chronic conditions.

At OrthoONE, we are always available to help our patients improve their health — and in turn lead fuller, happier lives.