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Ouch! My Back Hurts! When Should I See a Doctor?

Usually back pain will be relieved with simple home care of rest and a pain reliever (acetaminophen, ibuprofen, etc). If the pain doesn’t subside within 72 hours or if you are experiencing severe pain it is wise to seek medical attention immediately.  If the pain continues for an extended period of time or returns you should seek the help of a medical professional.  Occasionally back pain can be a signal of a serious medical problem.

Seek medical attention if:

  • If you are experiencing weakness, numbness or tingling in one or both legs and it spreads down below your knees
  • You have unexplained weight loss
  • You are experiencing a swelling and redness on your back
  • The pain becomes severe
  • If you experience a fever or pain associated with throbbing in the abdomen

For a physician to prescribe the appropriate treatment for back pain, they must find the cause of the pain or the primary diagnosis.  Often this can be difficult, because a person with back pain often has some degree of deterioration involving the spine.  Yet the degeneration to the spine may not be the main cause of the back pain.  It’s a confusing frustrating puzzle for many back patients and their physicians.  Especially if you are told it is all in your head.  As a result many cases of back pain go undiagnosed, other than being told its back strain, a slipped disk, or disk deterioration.

You know the pain is real it is affecting your job, family, friends and your life.  To receive the best care and results, be prepared when you go to your doctor’s appointment.  Have questions and answers available, this will make the primary diagnosis much easier to pin-point.

What Can You Do to Prepare?

  • Write down important personal information concerning your back pain
  • List any treatments, conditions, ailments you have had in the past
  • Note any recent injuries to your back
  • Take a family member with you-you won’t be able to remember everything, they can fill in the missing pieces
  • Write down questions you want to ask your doctor.

What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor?

  • What caused my back pain?
  • Do I need any diagnostic tests?
  • What treatment can ease the pain?
  • What medications do you recommend?
  • What are the side effects of these medications?
  • What can I do to prevent a reoccurrence of back pain?
  • Will I require surgery?

Your doctor may ask you these questions:

  • When did you first notice the back pain?
  • How often does the back pain occur?
  • Have you had a blow or injury to your back?
  • Have you been experiencing any bowel or bladder problems due to the back pain?
  • Has the back pain interfered with your daily activities?
  • How much stress and conflict is in your life?
  • Do you do heavy physical work?
  • Do you exercise regularly?  Lift weights?
  • Do you sleep well most of the time?
  • What treatments or self-care methods are you using to relieve the pain?
  • Do the self-care methods work?
  • Have you been treated for any other medical condition?

What do I do while I wait for my appointment?

  • Apply heat using a heating pad, or take a hot bath for short periods of time. Do not sleep with you heating pad on at night.  Heating pads can cause burns.
  • Ice packs and cold gel packs can relieve back pain.
  • Unless your job requires heavy lifting, try to maintain your normal activities as much as possible without putting added strain on your back.

Take it easy and rest as needed while you wait for your doctor appointment.  Most important, make sure you keep the appointment.  Back pain can lead to or be signals of more serious medical problems so keep the appointment.  You are worth it!

Barbara Lucore

I have been a nurse for 15+ years and as a nurse I understand how to prevent back strain and pain. The correct ways to lift objects, the causes of back pain, treatments available, the exercises to reduce or prevent back pain and the proper ways to move without strain or injury to your back.