More than eight out of ten people will suffer from upper, middle, or lower back pain at some point in their life. The most prevalent type of back pain is low back pain. In most situations, the pain subsides with time. If your back pain is severe or does not improve, seek medical attention. Here are some typical questions about back discomfort, as well as advice on whether to seek care.

Why Is My Back Hurting?

Back pain can be caused by a variety of factors, including muscular discomfort with or without spasms, disc pain, joint pain, or nerve pain. Most of the time, these are not risky or dangerous. 

The most common type of acute back pain is muscle pain. Acute pain is usually brief and can be treated at home or by primary care physicians. These patients may be referred to back pain specialists on occasion. Some back pain can be a symptom of a more serious problem, such as a fracture, infection, or cancer in the spine. These patients should be seen by a spine specialist.

Fortunately, spine infections and cancer are extremely rare and usually affect only persons who have certain risk factors. Spine fractures are also uncommon and may be caused by thinning spine bones or trauma.

When Should I Consult a Doctor About Back Pain?

When your back first hurts, take an over-the-counter pain medicine (such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen) and apply ice for the first 48 hours. Heat can be applied after 48 hours. You may need to rest for a bit, but it's best to stay as active as tolerated and to avoid absolute bed rest

Make an appointment with your family doctor if your back discomfort lasts more than two weeks and prevents you from performing routine everyday activities. If your pain is severe, you should consult a doctor as soon as possible. You should seek emergency medical attention if you have:

  • Fever accompanied by back pain;
  • Back pain following a traumatic event;
  • Bladder or bowel control problems;
  • Strength loss in your arms and legs;
  • Unknown cause of weight loss linked to back discomfort.

In addition, if you have a family history of cancer, illness, or spine fractures, you should be extra cautious.

What Should I Do If I Have Back Pain?

If your back pain is the result of a recent strain or minor injury, your primary care physician can most likely assist you. However, if the pain is severe, persistent, or accompanied by other symptoms such as numbness or tingling in your arms or legs, you should consult a back doctor. Begin with someone who specializes in non-surgical back pain treatment. A physiatrist, chiropractor, physical therapist, or orthopedic physician assistant may be included. They can assess your health and provide suitable treatment to help relieve your pain. Depending on your situation, they may recommend you to another type of back expert, such as a pain management specialist or spine surgeon.

What Happens If I Go to a Back Doctor?

A doctor will gather a full medical history of your back problems and perform detailed physical examinations. This includes checking for tenderness, range of motion in the spine, strength, sensation, and reflexes. Depending on your symptoms, they may conduct provocative testing to determine what is causing your pain. Imaging examinations, such as X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans, may be necessary. They may perform electromyography and a nerve conduction exam to determine whether you have muscular and/or nerve abnormalities that are causing your symptoms. This information will be used to help discover the cause(s) of your back pain and accompanying symptoms and to present you with the best treatment options.