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When to See a Back Specialist for Back Pain

How Common Is Back Pain?

If you’re like most Americans, you’ll probably have back pain at some point in your life. Four in five adults suffer from low back pain. Luckily, most back pain goes away within one to two weeks. But if your pain is long-term or chronic—and if you have certain symptoms with your low back pain—you may want to see a spine specialist.

Top 10 Reasons to See a Specialist for Your Back Pain

1. Acute vs. chronic pain

Back pain is considered chronic if it lasts more than three months. (Pain that lasts less than three months is called acute). Chronic pain on its own doesn’t automatically mean you should see a back specialist. But if you have chronic pain with other problems described below, you may benefit from making an appointment.

2. Source of pain

Can you remember what you were doing when your back pain started, like gardening or skiing? If so, it’ll probably clear up on its own, especially if you stretch, use heating pads, or take anti-inflammatory medication.

But if you can’t remember a specific time when your back didn’t hurt, you may want to see a back specialist.

3. Bowel & bladder problems

A big red flag is having bowel and bladder problems. Do you have a hard time controlling when you go to the bathroom, or going to the bathroom at all? These may be signs of a spine tumor or other serious conditions.

4. Pain that travels down your leg

Radiculopathy is when your spinal nerve root is injured, compressed, or inflamed. Pressure on your nerve can cause pain to travel down your back and legs.

5. Leg weakness

Numbness or weakness in your legs, hips, or crotch that lasts more than a couple days might be signs of a serious condition where your nerve sac is compressed in your lower spine.

6. Difficulty with everyday activities

Lots of people have back pain but can still drive, go to work, and do chores. But if your back pain prevents you from doing these things, you may want to make an appointment.

7. Sensation in your legs and feet

Do you feel tingling? Has the sensation in your legs and feet changed? Serious conditions can put pressure on the nerves in your spine, which causes tingling.

8. Unexplained weight loss

If you’ve lost more than five pounds a week for many weeks, this may be a sign of a cancerous tumor.

9. Fever with other symptoms

If you have a temperature higher than 101° with other symptoms, you may have a spine infection. Spine infections are rare, but they can develop in your vertebrae, disks, or joints.

10. Traumatic injuries

In severe cases, car accidents, falling, or injuries from playing sports can cause the disks inside your spine vertebrae (or bones) to rupture. This can cause pain.

Could I Need Back or Spine Surgery?

Many patients think back specialists will automatically recommend spine surgery as the only way to treat pain. But in fact, only five percent of back pain problems lead to surgery.

To treat your back pain, it’s more common that a back specialist will recommend:

  • physical therapy,
  • prescription medications, or
  • steroid injections or cortisone injections from a rehab doctor or specialist.

Next Steps

If you have any of these symptoms and are worried you may have a back or spine condition, request an evaluation with our back specialists.

Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

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