HealthONE - November 20, 2020

While many people suffer from minor aches and pains in their back, severe back pain may indicate a larger problem. At what point does your upper back pain or lower back pain, or that of a loved one, reach the point where you should seek emergency care?

In short: You should visit a Denver emergency room (ER) near you if you feel that your condition is severe enough that it can’t wait for a visit to your primary care physician. If you are not certain, use the following guidelines to decide if your back pain requires emergency care.

These symptoms may necessitate emergency care

Upper back pain and middle back pain, in many cases, will heal with time and rest. Lower back pain, anywhere from your rib cage to your buttocks, can often result from stretching, reaching, lifting or twisting. If your back pain is unrelenting and not helped by rest, or if the pain is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, you should immediately seek emergency care:

  • Bladder or bowel incontinence
  • Fever
  • Loss of a neurologic function (confusion, slurred speech or inability to speak, loss of vision)
  • Sudden numbness or weakness

Certain medical conditions accompanied by back pain may require an ER visit

For individuals with the following medical conditions, back pain may indicate a more serious issue. If you are experiencing severe or chronic lower back pain and have any of these medical conditions, you should visit an emergency department:

  • Any recent injury or trauma, especially in the elderly
  • History of cancer
  • Intravenous drug use
  • Prolonged steroid use
  • Recent immunosuppression, either from surgery or prescribed drugs

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