When should I call the doctor about back pain?
Back pain affects about 80 percent of people at some point in their lives. With numerous possible causes, it’s important to communicate your symptoms with your doctor to pinpoint the source and treat it effectively.
Did you know there are 24 movable bones in your spine? Stacked on top of each other, these bones help support you through your day — from walking to sitting and even laying down. When you experience back pain at any point, it affects your day-to-day life.
From a herniated disc and mechanical back pain to spinal stenosis or degenerative arthritis, treatment for back pain is unique from one person to another and communicating with your doctor is key to developing your most effective treatment plan.
How to treat
“Back pain affects many people and can happen at any point in your life. In fact, it’s one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor,” says Dr. Jon A. Carlson, a chiropractic sports medicine specialist at Geisinger Gray’s Woods. “Knowing when it’s time to reach out to your doctor can help you manage your pain and receive a proper diagnosis.”
Working with your doctor, you can also identify more serious back and spine conditions, including:
¯Scoliosis (curvature of the spine)
¯Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal)
When you see your doctor for back pain, they will assess your ability to walk, sit, stand and lift your legs. “Your doctor will also perform special tests and may take X-rays to fully evaluate the cause of your back pain,” says Carlson. “The treatment for your back pain may require chiropractic manipulation, at home rehabilitation, physical therapy and sometimes surgery.”
When to worry about back pain
Back pain is often manageable, but there are times when it could signal a more serious health issue. If you experience any of the additional symptoms, it’s important to reach out to your doctor:
¯Fever with back pain
¯Pain following a fall
¯Pain worse with bend lift stand walk
¯Pain that shoots down your arms or legs
¯Sudden weight loss
¯Loss of bowl or
¯Weakness or numbness in the arms or legs
Your doctor may run additional tests to diagnose your back pain, including X-rays, MRIs, CT scans or bone scans. “No matter the cause of your back pain, we’ll work with you to create a customized treatment plan,” says Dr. Carlson.
How to prevent back pain
If you’re worried about back pain, you can take measures to help prevent it by protecting your back.
“Exercising to maintain a healthy weight, including low-impact cardio and strength training, can help to strengthen the muscles in your back,” says Dr. Carlson. “Be sure to stretch regularly too, as keeping your muscles limber and strong can help them to function better altogether.”
Always make sure that you’re lifting heavy objects properly. Bend at the knees when you pick up or move something heavy to protect your back, rather than bending at the waist. Also, be mindful of your posture by standing and sitting up straight to protect your back throughout the day.
“Our Geisinger spine team is made up of many different providers that work together to determine the best plan of care for each individual patient.” says Dr. Carlson. “I work closely with our pain management doctors, spine surgeons and physical therapists to help you get the best possible outcome.”
This article was prepared by staff at Geisinger-Lewistown Hospital.