Back Pain: What it Can Mean & When to Seek Treatment

Medically reviewed by Dr. Phil Mitchell MD, MS on October 15th, 2019

back pain

Waking up is difficult enough; add back pain to the mix, and you’re in for a long day. What may at first feel like symptoms of an aging body—achy muscles and a tight, sore lower back—can actually be common signs of a larger issue. So, whether you’re someone who has lived with back pain for a while or have recently started to experience episodes of severe discomfort, it’s important to know that back pain can mean more than you think. Stay tuned as we explore what back pain means, the importance of acknowledging the severity of the issue, and when to seek treatment. 

Causes of Back Pain

Back pain can result from a variety of conditions, but usually indicates that you’ve strained the muscles around your back or are developing symptoms that could reveal a larger skeletal issue. Some common conditions that may lead to back pain if not addressed include:

  • Osteoarthritis. This form of arthritis is typically the result of genetics, obesity, or sport-related injuries—all conditions that place an abnormal amount of pressure on the spine and back muscles. 
  • Muscle strain. This is an extremely common cause of back pain that often results from overstretching the muscles around the lower back. This can happen from improperly lifting a heavy object, extreme exercise, or twisting to “crack” your lower back.
  • Skeletal irregularities. Scoliosis—curvature of the spine—is a genetic skeletal condition that can often lead to severe back pain in adults.
  • Bulging or ruptured disks. The spine is made up of disks and vertebrae. If the disks become strained, they can bulge or rupture and aggravate the surrounding nerves. While this issue might go unnoticed for an extended period, if the nerves are aggravated, it can cause intense discomfort. 

Whether you are experiencing acute back pain, lasting roughly six weeks or less, or chronic back pain, lasting more than three months, it’s important that you identify the source of your pain, recognize the symptoms, and document the effects. 

Recognizing the Symptoms

Most people who experience back pain tend to shrug off the discomfort as a result of stress, poor sleep, vigorous exercise, or sign of age. While these are common causes of back pain, if you experience discomfort—especially for an extended period of time—chances are your back pain is a symptom of something more serious. According to medical professionals, back pain is “the leading cause of disability worldwide.” And, approximately 85 percent of adults will experience or have experienced a symptom of back pain at some point in their lives. Ergo, it is particularly important to recognize and address symptoms of back discomfort—no matter how intense—as part of maintaining healthy physicality. Fortunately, there are self-care measures you can take for your acute back pain and potentially prevent discomfort from arising. 

Caring for Your Back Pain

Virtually anyone can develop back pain, and most acute symptoms can be managed with home treatments. Some acute symptoms of back pain include:

  • Achy muscles
  • Pain that worsens when you bend, stand, walk, or try to lift something
  • Shooting or stabbing pains along your back

If you are experiencing these acute symptoms you should avoid bed rest and treat the pain with the following at-home remedies:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers 
  • Heat packs or a warm shower
  • Light activity, such as walking
  • Topical pain relievers

While these treatment options can help relieve pain, it’s important to understand that back pain is a complex condition that can affect a variety of people in different ways. Some factors that can put you at greater risk for developing back pain include age, excess weight gain, smoking, lack of exercise, stress related to anxiety, and other comorbidities that can weaken the body’s physicality over time. If you’re at risk for back pain, it’s important that you take extra care to implement preventative measures and recognize when to seek professional treatment, especially if your condition worsens.

When to Seek Professional Treatment

If your back pain worsens after weeks of home care, then it may be time to explore professional treatment options. This is largely true in cases of back pain, where the patient could experience:

  • Pain that radiates down both the back and legs
  • Back pain accompanied with chills or fever
  • Back pain following a traumatic event, such as a car crash or fall
  • Back pain along with an unsteady gait
  • Back pain and the lack of control over bowel or bladder movements

If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms with back pain, then it could be a sign of a spinal infection or spinal cord damage—issues that require immediate treatment. Depending on the severity of your back condition, however, traveling to the nearest emergency room (ER) may be easier said than done. The solution: DispatchHealth’s on-demand medical care.

At DispatchHealth, we provide a convenient solution to healthcare for people of all ages in the comfort of their homes. Our house-call services can be requested conveniently via phone, mobile, or through our website, making it easier than ever for individuals to receive prompt medical care at a moment’s notice. Once contacted, a qualified team of medical professionals—including a physician assistant or nurse practitioner, along with a medical technician—will arrive at your doorstep in a few hours with nearly all of the tools and technologies found in a typical emergency room (ER). Best of all, we accept most forms of major insurance, performing a variety of advanced tests and treatments at an out-of-pocket cost that is one-tenth of an ER visit. 

Don’t let back pain debilitate your way of life; contact DispatchHealth and start feeling better sooner. 

Sources

DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies. 

Sources referenced in this article: 

  1. https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/osteoarthritis/what-is-osteoarthritis.php
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20369906
  3. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/scoliosis
  4. https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/musculoskeletal-and-rheumatology/2017/november/back-pain
  5. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325381.php
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DispatchHealth Staff The DispatchHealth blog provides tips, tricks and advice for improving lives through convenient, comfortable healthcare.