Chances are you've experienced back pain at least once in your life.
According to the Global Burden of Disease, lower back pain is the world's leading cause of disability. In a single year, half of working Americans will fall victim to the Back Pain Monster.
While it may seem like an everyday occurrence, there are times when this discomfort shouldn't be ignored.
But when does enough become enough? When is it time to visit an orthopedic spine specialist?
Read on to find out.
What Is an Orthopedic Spine Specialist?
Approximately 80% of Americans experience back pain, and it sometimes falls to specialists to determine why.
Orthopedics is a category of medicine that focuses on the musculoskeletal system. Spine specialists, of course, focus only on the diseases and issues associated with the spine.
These physicians are trained to detect and treat conditions impacting or stemming from the spine through surgery or other means. Consequently, an orthopedic spine specialist is sometimes called a spine surgeon.
Orthopedic specialists know their stuff. They spend at least eight years in school, learning the ins and outs of their trade. Several of those years are spent in clinical fields, where soon-to-be surgeons learn even more through residencies and specialized fellowships.
Many wonder what's the difference between a specialist and a chiropractor? Chiropractors manipulate the spine for relief, but only specialists can conduct surgeries.
5 Signs It's Time to See a Physician
Knowing when it's time to throw in the towel is important. No one wants to suffer life-long back pain, and ignoring symptoms can be dangerous.
1. Chronic Pain
There are several different categories that will help you determine if your pain is chronic.
Acute pain is short-lasting, meaning it only occurs for a few days or weeks. Usually, the cause will disappear and no further means are necessary to alleviate the individual's suffering.
If your back is still aching after four weeks, you may have subacute pain. Subacute pain can last up to 12 weeks.
The majority of these pains are mechanical, meaning they can be fixed without surgery. Sometimes, a visit to a chiropractor may be enough.
Next, there is chronic pain, which lasts longer than 12 weeks and persists even after injuries or underlying causes have been treated.
These are the boo-boo masters of back discomfort, affecting about 20% of individuals with low back pain a year.
If you have experienced any sort of chronic pain, it's time to schedule an appointment with a specialist.
2. Bowel and Bladder Issues
If you find yourself running to the restroom or sitting on the toilet for hours (neither of which is much fun), it may be time to see a specialist.
Some of the issues that can affect the bowel, bladder, and back include Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and nerve damage.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome can cause abdominal cramping and extreme stool (yes, that means your pooping experience isn't quite right), which can then lead to lower back issues.
Flipping it around, nerve damage in the back can create abdominal pain and disrupt digestion.
3. Leg or Feet Pain
Pain or numbness in the legs or feet accompanied by back pain is a true-blue sign you need to see a specialist.
Pressure on the nerves or spine can lead to tingling sensations or weakness in the hip, legs, and feet. Sometimes, a herniated disk may be pressing on the sciatic nerve, which interferes with leg muscle control.
Cervical radiculopathy may also be an issue. This occurs when a nerve root near the cervical vertebrae is compressed. It can cause pain or numbness in extremities.
Very often, these issues can be resolved through mechanical means. However, surgery may be required in some cases.
Our temperatures naturally fluctuate, and we all pick up "bugs" now and again.
If you are running a fever and have severe discomfort in the lumbar region or thoracic spine, don't panic but keep a wary eye on the issue.
Most likely, you have the flu or other infection that has occurred directly after a muscle strain or pull. With so many people experiencing back pain, it's less coincidental than you'd think.
The flu and other illnesses also make our bodies hyper-aware of any pains, hence the yucky aching sensations that make us feel like we've been run over when we're sick.
However, a fever that accompanies pain in the back can also be a sign of something more severe, such as cancer or bacterial infections.
Cancer is almost always accompanied by fatigue, weight loss, and fevers. While cancer that originates in the spine is rare, it is not uncommon for other types to spread to the area.
Another uncommon possibility includes a bacterial infection, which (like cancer) rarely originates in the spine. It, too, can spread from other organs or may cause discomfort in the abdominal and pelvic region, which radiates to the lower back.
5. Weight Loss
You've been hitting the gym and you're finally losing those extra "handles," but your back is killing you.
Believe it or not, this may be due to your newfound weight.
In decreasing the calories consumed, you may inadvertently be depriving your body of necessary nutrients. This can lead to decreased bone density and spinal misalignment.
Usually, the solution is to improve your muscular strength and diet. If this doesn't work or you are experiencing intense discomfort, it may be best to speak to an orthopedic back specialist.
But unintentional weight loss is another topic entirely.
We may be happy to shed a few pounds, but if you're dropping weight without trying, something may be wrong. As cancer spreads, it presses on organs and other body parts. This results in pain in those areas.
If you have unintentionally lost weight recently and are experiencing any discomfort in the back, see a doctor for back pain.
Relieve Your Pain Today
If you've been experiencing pain of any sort in the back, contact an orthopedic back specialist today.