The sheer number of ways that you can hurt your back – shoveling snow, gardening, sports, any number of exertions – is probably what makes back pain a leading cause of disability worldwide. Excess weight, advanced age, a sedentary lifestyle, and, yes, smoking can all raise our chances to experience it. Ultimately, most incidences of back pain are not so dire that they cannot be addressed with home care, yet it remains one of the most common reasons people visit their doctors.
The cases where you should see a doctor about your back pain are where it involves:
· Bowel or bladder problems
· Is accompanied by a fever
· Is a result of a fall or blow
· Spreads down one or both legs, especially if the pain extends below the knee
· Is severe and doesn't improve with rest
· Causes weakness, numbness or tingling in one or both legs
· Is accompanied by unexplained weight loss
Your doctor will give you a physical exam, specifically assessing your ability to stand, walk, sit and lift your legs.
If she believes there is reason to suspect a specific condition may be causing your back pain, your doctor may, most commonly, order an X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging, or computer tomography scan. If she suspects an infection, she will order a blood test. Herniated discs can be determined through an electromyography test. In rare cases where the doctor suspects bone tumors or compression fractures caused by osteoporosis, your doctor may order a bone scan.
Most of the time, however, your doctor will send you home with some over-the-counter pain relievers an admonishment to “take it easy.” (Note that bed rest is most often not part of the prescription.) If the OTC pain relievers don't bring you the relief for which you were hoping, your doctor may prescribe “something stronger.” Muscle relaxants, topical pain relievers such as salves and ointments, certain antidepressants, and opioids are all part of the arsenal of back pain relief. The last resort is usually a cortisone injection into the space around your spinal cord. Surgery is almost never an option.