In most cases, back pain can be as commonplace as a mild headache, a sneeze, or eye strain. In fact, non-specific low back pain is a frequent ailment. One study report that the lifetime prevalence of chronic low back pain is as high as 84 percent, making one’s chances of experiencing discomfort at one time or another pretty high. What are some of the biggest symptoms indicating your back pain may be something more serious?
Back pain can have a range of causes, from an injury or muscle strain to more serious conditions such as arthritis.
If your back pain doesn’t improve within a few weeks and gets worse you should see your GP, who can rule out any serious causes like a slipped disc.
If back pain can be associated with a specific activity, such as lifting or twisting wrong, and the pain goes away within 72 hours after resting and applying ice, it’s usually nothing to worry about.
However, if pain creeps on gradually, appears suddenly, or doesn’t go away, you might have a more serious condition.
READ MORE: Back pain – the simple ‘cat stretch’ exercise to relieve your lower backache
According to the NHS, major warning signs include:
- Numbness or tingling around your genitals or buttocks
- Difficulty peeing
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Chest pain
- A high temperature of 38C or above
- Unexplained weight loss
- A swelling or a deformity in your back
- It does not improve after resting or is worse at night
- It started after a serious accident, such as after a car accident
“While back pain is very common and usually benign and self-limiting, there are some signs and symptoms which could indicate a more serious medical condition requiring further evaluation and treatment,” said Dr Mark Drymalski, Medical Director of the University of Missouri Health Care’s Comprehensive Spine Center.
Dr Drymalski details several conditions that can cause intense back pain, many of which centre on the bones or discs.
“Pay attention to the other symptoms in addition to your back pain, especially your bowel/bladder function and leg function,” Dr Drymalski said.
He added that if you demonstrate any of the above red flag symptoms, if your pain persists and does not appear to be related to movement, or if you have a history of cancer, recent IV drug use, or vascular disease, you may be at increased risk for serious back conditions.
Bupa offers some additional tips, alongside keeping active, to help relieve lower back pain.
It says: “Take over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs, for example, ibuprofen) if you need pain relief. Paracetamol alone probably doesn’t work well for back pain. You should only take these medicines for a short time, not for long-term back pain.
“You may want to try applying heat or cold treatments to your back. “Remember not to apply ice directly to your skin.
“You may find it helps to sleep with a small cushion between your knees if you sleep on your side. Or with some firm pillows under your knees, if sleeping on your back.”