While a little soreness here and there might not be worth worrying about, there are certain types of back pain you shouldn't ignore. Usually, these include new pains, pains accompanied by other symptoms, and the type of pain that impacts your day. Even though you might be tempted to brush it off and carry on, these can all be signs something more is going on.
"It isn’t normal to have back pain," Dr. Todd Sinett, a chiropractor and applied kinesiologist, tells Bustle. "[But] unfortunately it is common so people think that it's normal." Back pain is a lot like other nagging health symptoms in that it's easy to ignore. But seeing a doctor can be important.
"Back pain is often your body’s language telling you that something is wrong," Sinett says. "Ignoring this message can lead to bigger problems and more severe pain. You want to listen to your body. Ignoring the pain for a long time can be analogous to removing the battery from a smoke alarm because the noise is too loud," which you obviously don't want to do.
In many cases, mild back pain will go away on its own, and may just be a sign you need to stretch more often. Poor posture can also lead to back pain, Sinett says, which can usually be remedied by doing yoga, or sitting up straighter. If you have any of the back pains listed below, however, experts say it's not something you'll want to ignore.
Pain That Lasts Longer Than 10 Days
"You should not ignore any sort of pain that's been going on longer than 10 days as a general rule," Jason Kart, PT, DPT, CMPT, physical therapist and owner of Core Physical Therapy, tells Bustle. Because waiting any longer than that can make healing more difficult.
"Most people may wake up in the morning and have a certain amount of stiffness until their body warms up," Kart says. "But if you're experiencing an increased amount of pain that is affecting your daily life it is best to get it checked out. The longer you let it go, the worse it can get."
Pain After A Traumatic Event
If your back hurts after going through a traumatic event, such as a fall or a car crash, you'll want to let a doctor know. "Don’t shake it off as no big deal," Neel Anand, MD, director of spine trauma at Cedars-Sinai Spine Center, tells Bustle. "From spinal cord lacerations to vertebral fractures, a traumatic event can absolutely cause damage to the spine, even if you’re able to get up and walk right after it happened."
This type of back pain is not something you'll want to let go. "When spinal injuries go undiagnosed and untreated, they can result in much bigger problems down the road," Anand says. "So don’t wait. Get to your doctor and have the pain evaluated by an expert ASAP."
Pain Along With Numbness & Tingling
"Some people describe it as a 'pins and needles' sensation, some describe it as a complete loss of feeling — but however it presents, this usually signals an issue with the nerves in the affected area of the back or neck," Anand says. So if you have tingles down your arms or legs, along with back pain, take note.
"A variety of conditions can cause numbness and tingling in the limbs, from sciatica to spinal stenosis or a herniated disc, for example," Anand says. "But all of them warrant proper diagnosis and treatment by a spine health expert because prolonged irritation of nerves can lead to permanent damage, and in some cases, disability later on."
Pain In Your Back/Upper Abdomen
Flank pain refers to any type of pain in your upper abdomen, sides, and back. And it's not a pain you'll want to ignore, especially since it can point to kidney problems, Kart says.
Kidney pain, also known as renal pain, can stem from damage or disease in the kidneys. Usually, it feels like a dull ache on one side, and can occur along with fever and urinary symptoms.
If the pain is on the right flank it could also point to liver trouble, Kart says, and if it's on the left flank it could mean something's going on with your pancreas. The only way to know for sure is to go to your doctor, which is something you'll want to do right away.
Pain With Loss Of Bladder Control
"Back pain that also seems to be tied to a loss of function in the bladder or bowels is also something serious that warrants medical attention," Anand says. "Certain conditions can result in incontinence due to compression of nerves in the spine that also travel down to and affect the organs that control bladder and bowel function."
This won't necessarily happen suddenly, Anand says, but may be an issue that gets worse over time, "and when spinal nerves are involved, may also include numbness or weakness in the legs as well. So if you’ve been feeling a decline in your bladder or bowel function and also experiencing back pain, it’s essential to have your doctor check it out."
Pain Along With Fever
"The type of fever referenced here isn’t your typical fever from a virus like the flu where you are likely experiencing body aches all over, including in your neck or back," Anand says. "Instead, this is a fever that is seemingly unresolved and is accompanied by back pain alone or predominantly. When this occurs, it is usually the body’s response to some type of infection that needs to be looked at right away by your doctor."
Of course, any back pain that doesn't go away or seems out of the ordinary should also get attention ASAP. It's so easy to push through back pain or wait for it to go away. But since it can be your body's way of pointing out a health problem, it's not something you'll want to ignore.
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