About 70 percent of cases of low back pain will get better on their own within just a few days. Even more extreme back pain gradually improves with home treatment and self-care, or by taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, usually within two weeks.
However, in very rare cases, back pain can signal a more serious medical problem. If you experience any of the following symptoms in conjunction with the discomfort, your body might be trying to tell you something critical.
The pain is severe
If the discomfort is not improving or getting worse, or if it’s been bothering you for more than six weeks, it might be time to see a medical professional.
You experience unusual sensations in the lower half of the body
Sudden loss of bowel control or progressive weakness in the legs or feet can be an indication of a serious condition called cauda equina syndrome. The condition is a rare disorder—affecting only about 1 in 33,000 people—in which the nerve roots in your spine are compressed and cut off all sensation and movement. These symptoms require immediate medical attention.
You’ve recently had an accident
Talk to your doctor if the pain follows a fall, a blow to your back or another injury. If the trauma was extreme, you might have fractured a spine.
It’s accompanied by abdominal pain
Quick onset back pain that is unrelated to injury can be a symptom of a tearing of the aorta in the abdomen—a condition called an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
You have unexplained fever or chills
Fever or chills often indicates infection. Infections in the spine can occur if you have a weak immune system or if you’ve recently undergone spinal surgery.
It gives you bad morning stiffness
It’s normal to have some aches after a night in bed, but if the sensation lasts longer than 30 minutes or gets worse without physical exertion, your back pain can be the result of a form of inflammatory arthritis, like ankylosing spondylitis.
It’s worse at night
If the pain gets less manageable at night and has no identifiable cause, it could be a sign of a spinal tumor. Consult your doctor if pain occurs even when your body is flat in bed and stationary.
You’ve lost weight
When sudden weight loss occurs for no apparent reason or intent, the patient should reconsider the seriousness of the pain. The combination of weight loss and back pain might indicate a serious underlying medical condition, such as a cancer.