Back and neck pain are subjective. Everyone’s experience is different and everyone’s pain tolerance is different. There are few – if any – definitive tests that can measure and diagnose your pain. It is therefore up to you to tell your doctor about your back pain symptoms. The difficulty with back pain is that it is common – 4 out of 5 adults will suffer from it during their lives – and most of the time back pain will resolve itself.
However – as a general rule – if you have suffered back pain for more than 4 weeks, or if it is severe, and not settling with simple painkillers, you should visit your doctor. Pain that lasts longer than the expected healing time for an injury is known as ‘chronic pain’. The sooner you can get chronic pain accurately diagnosed and treated, the more successful your treatment will be. However, there are a few signs that may indicate you need to see your doctor more quickly:–
If your pain prevents you from sleeping
If your back pain actually gets worse when you lie down, or keeps you up all night – it is important to get it investigated. If you have a fever you may have an infection and you will need to get this treated as soon as possible.
If you are having bowel or bladder problems – or your legs are getting weaker
If you are having problems controlling your bladder or bowel, and/or your legs are getting progressively weaker you should see a doctor as soon as possible. These are possible symptoms of a condition called cauda equina – a back pain that is a medical emergency.
Bending or flexing your back makes your pain worse
If you have leg pain and it gets worse when you bend over or lift your knees to your chest you may have a disc problem. Disc problems range from bulging discs to herniated discs or can be a result of degenerative disc disease.
Your legs go numb when you walk
If you have numbness or weakness in your legs when you walk you should speak to your doctor about the possibility of spinal stenosis
Your pain radiates down one leg
If you have pain down one leg, you may be suffering from sciatica. Sciatica symptoms are caused by damage to the discs which in turn put pressure on the sciatic nerve which irritates it causing pain.
You have had cancer or are over 50
If you have a history of cancer, and you are experiencing back pain for the first time consult your doctor as soon as possible. It is also important to see your doctor if you have back pain and you are over 50.
If your pain is getting progressively worse