At some point in your life, you may experience back pain. Roughly 80% of adults experience it at some point in their lives, so it’s perfectly normal.
Acute back pain, also known as short-term back pain, isn’t a major cause for concern. It’s caused by everyday activities like vigorous exercise, lifting heavy objects, or awkward movement, and it usually subsides after a couple of days.
However, if your back pain persists for several weeks, you might be suffering from chronic back pain. Chronic back pain is a severe condition. Left unattended, it can have an adverse impact on your health. That said, here are early signs of back pain that may require urgent medical attention.
Early Signs of Back Pain
A dull aching sensation isn’t a major cause for concern. However, if you start feeling a sharp pain, it could indicate a more severe problem like a torn muscle or ligament or an internal organ problem.
Radiating pain is a stabbing or shooting pain that moves down from your legs to your feet, and it could indicate the onset of a back problem.
Weakness in the Legs
Weakness in one or both legs for a prolonged period might signify a back problem due to a condition like sciatica.
Back pain accompanied by bowel or bladder control loss may point to a more serious back problem like a spine infection.
Unexplained Weight Loss
Various illnesses and conditions can cause sudden weight loss. However, if it’s accompanied by back pain, you should have a doctor rule out the possibility of a serious back problem.
Like unexplained weight loss, fever could be a sign of various medical conditions. However, if your fever is accompanied by back pain, it may be an early sign of a severe back problem.
Difficulty Standing Up
After strenuous physical activity, you may feel back pain when standing up from a seating position. But, if the pain persists for several weeks every time you stand up, it might be a sign of a serious back problem.
Individuals with back pain often find it difficult to stand upright. If you stand bent, you may have an underlying back problem.
Conditions that Cause Back Pain
Various conditions and diseases can cause back problems. They include:
Arthritis is a disease that affects the joints resulting in swelling, stiffness, and inflammation. Osteoarthritis, the type that affects most patients, causes back pain. Ankylosing spondylitis, another type of arthritis, can also cause back pain by making the spine inflexible.
Vertebrae are the interlocking bones that make up the spinal column. Within the vertebrae, there are discs that cushion each vertebra. Sometimes, these discs can bulge or rupture and compress the nerves resulting in severe back pain.
Scoliosis is a condition that alters the spine structure. It can affect both children and adults, but it often starts in children aged 10 to 15. Typically, the spine has a vertical shape. However, scoliosis gives the spine an S-like shape. Common signs of scoliosis include clothes not fitting well, uneven shoulders, an uneven waist, and difficulty breathing. Back pain is also a common sign of scoliosis, but it’s more common in adults than children.
Non-Spine Conditions that Cause Back Pain
In rare situations, back pain may also be caused by the following conditions:
- Kidney and Digestive Problems: Conditions like kidney stones and pancreatitis may cause back pain in some patients.
- Endometriosis: Pain in the abdomen and lower back are common symptoms of the condition.
- Tumors: While rare, tumors in the back can cause back pain if they develop.
Back Pain Diagnosis
During a back pain diagnosis, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and conduct a physical exam. The physical exam may involve testing your mobility, spine’s range of motion, leg strength, and reflexes.
However, if you can’t move at all or a severe condition is suspected, you may undergo other tests like:
- Blood, stool, and urine tests to eliminate the possibility of other conditions like kidney stones
- X-rays to check your spine’s curvature and check if there are any broken bones
- An MRI or CT scan to assess your bones, muscles, ligaments, and other tissues
- An electromyogram (EMG) to test your nerves
Back Pain Prevention
Fortunately, back pain is preventable. Here’s how you can keep it at bay or relieve the pain if it happens:
Maintain good posture: Poor posture can strain your spine and lead to back pain. If you start slouching, readjust your posture and sit upright.
Exercise your core: The muscles around your core support your spine. Strengthening them by doing core exercises can prevent back pain.
Stretch regularly: Your muscles need exercise to prevent them from getting fatigued. Ensure they get the exercise they need by stretching to avoid back pain.
Carry less: Carrying heavy loads can exert stress on your neck and spine. Relieve the pressure on these areas by carrying what you need. Also, use a bag that distributes the weight on your shoulders evenly.
Take breaks: Activities like working on a laptop for an extended period while seated can take a toll on your neck, shoulders, and back. Try to take regular breaks while working to relieve the stress on your back.
Wear flat shoes: High-heeled shoes can cause back problems if worn since they affect posture. Substitute them for low-heeled shoes to ease the stress on your back.
Get a Firm Mattress: If you often wake up with an aching back, your mattress may be the culprit. Get a high-quality orthopedic mattress to prevent back pain and manage chronic back pain.
Back pain is relatively common, and the older you get, the higher your chances of getting it. Fortunately, most back pain problems are acute, and the pain usually goes away after a couple of days. Plus, with treatment, most patients suffering from back pain can make a full recovery. But, if you want to avoid back pain, follow the prevention tips above to alleviate stress on your back and make it more resilient.