At this very moment, it is estimated that nearly 31 million Americans are experiencing back pain of some kind. Whether it’s stiffness after a bad night’s sleep, or pulling a muscle after weekend activities, you’ve likely dealt with the annoyance of back pain at some point.
However, because back pain can range from a mild, dull, annoying ache, to persistent, severe, disabling pain, it can be difficult to tell if your pain is just the result of a back problem, or if it’s mask-ing a more serious health condition.
So before opting for the painkillers instead of seeking the care of a back pain specialist, Bethwel Raore, MD, a neurosurgeon with Gwinnett Medical Center, provides 4 signs that may indicate your pain isn’t just a back problem:
1. Your pain radiates down one or both legs.
If you’re experiencing pain in your lower back that radiates down into one or both of your legs, it’s likely the result of sciatica. This condition is usually caused by a bulging disk in your spine that is irritating the sciatic nerve, which is the main nerve in your leg.
While sciatica can heal on its own with rest and time, it is important to seek the guidance of an expert to relieve pain and to ensure the safest recovery possible. Furthermore, if the pain evolves into weakness or numbness, this may indicate further damage to the nerve or spinal cord, which may be irreversible if urgent care is not pursued.
2. You have difficulty walking.
If you have a hard time walking short distances in the upright position and are more comfortable leaning over, this may be an indication of spinal stenosis. This condition is usually a result of the natural aging process.
It is most common in adults over the age of 50. Wear and tear of the joints around the spinal cord can cause bone spurs and a tightening of the spinal canal.
While there isn’t a specific way to prevent spinal stenosis, working with your doctor can help you manage the discomfort.
3. You have a change in urine output.
Because of the location of your kidneys, there are a number of kidney conditions that can be mistakenly identified as nothing more than back pain. For instance, if you are experiencing lower back pain, especially below the rib cage or on your sides, this may be an indication of kidney disease. If you are experiencing these symptoms, as well as fatigue, loss of appetite and high blood pressure, it is best to work with your doc-tor to determine diagnosis and treatment.
Similarly, kidney stones can often cause sharp pain in the lower back, usually on just one side. The pain may also come and go in waves as the stone moves throughout your urinary tract. If you notice pain while urinating or an urge to go more often than usual, your back pain may be the result of a kidney stone. It is best to work with your doctor in order to safely pass the stone and prevent any infection.
In the rare event you have a urination or bowel accident and are not aware it is happening, then you need to contact your doctor immediately.
4. Eating high-fat foods makes it worse.
There are two organs that play an important role in the digestive process—the gallbladder and the pancreas—both of which are notorious for causing back pain. If you feel pain that radiates from the upper abdomen to the back, especially after eating foods that are high in fat, one of these organs may be to blame.
Pancreatitis, as well an inflamed gallbladder, can be serious medical conditions. If you notice the symptoms listed above accompanied by fever, chills or nausea, it’s time to see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.