It's not always easy to tell when back pain is serious and requires medical attention. While some back pain can be managed with rest and over-the-counter pain relievers, other types of back pain can be a sign of something more serious. Knowing the signs of serious back pain can help you determine when it's time to see a doctor. If your back pain is accompanied by feelings of numbness, tingling, or weakness, this could be a sign of irritation or nerve damage.
Nerve pain is serious and can cause permanent damage or disability if left untreated. Additionally, if your back pain wakes you up in the middle of the night or appears when you're in certain positions, such as lying down, this could be a sign of a more serious problem. Most back pain will go away after a few days, but if you've been feeling pain for more than a week, it's time to call a doctor. With little time and home remedies, such as over-the-counter pain relievers and hot and cold therapy, acute pain can start to go away quickly, in as little as two weeks.
However, if your back pain has been persisting for more than two weeks without improvement, has been coming and going for some time, or if you have any alarming symptoms, don't delay the care you need. Spinal arthritis, the slow degeneration of spinal joints, is the most common cause of low back pain. If any of the following apply to your back pain, it's time to schedule an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible:
- It's serious and doesn't get better with rest.
- It spans one or both legs, especially if the pain extends below the knee.
- It persists after taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers.
- It lasts longer than three months.
Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent long-term damage or disability.