How Do I Know if My Back Pain Is Serious?

Everyone has experienced back pain at least once in their life. Yet, most people brush it off and power through the day, thinking they worked too hard or slept in the wrong position. However, not everyone experiences back pain the same way.

Some people experience dull aches, and others have sharp pains. Depending on the intensity, you can get away with a day’s rest or home remedies.

But what if your pain lasts more than a week or you experience others symptoms? When is back pain serious? This guide covers the different types of back pain and when you should consult a doctor.

Read on to find out more and when you need to get help for back pain.

Acute Trauma

There are many minor causes of back pain, but some require immediate medical aid. You should never overlook back pain if you’ve recently been in a motor accident or play active sports. Feeling back pain immediately after an accident, slip, or fall is a sign of acute trauma.

Moderate to severe back is often the only symptom. However, you may also experience leg numbness, pain, or a total loss of sensation in one or both. You may also find it difficult to lift your foot or leg.

Acute trauma can result in a fractured spine or severe spondylolisthesis. This condition injures or compresses the spinal cord, which can make it difficult to make slight movements.

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Back pain extending to other parts of your body should always be a cause of concern. If your back pain radiates towards your abdomen, you may have an abdominal aortic aneurysm. This is a rare condition that feels like a constant stabbing pain.

This severe pain may occur in the belly button or between the sternum. People with an abdominal aortic aneurysm may feel pain around their legs, pelvis, or groin. Check your abdomen for an abnormal pulsating mass.

You may also experience cold sweats, a fast heartbeat, and shallow breathing. This condition is enough to cause shock, which can make you feel anxious, confused, or even pass out.

You are more likely to experience an abdominal aortic aneurysm if you smoke cigarettes and are between 65 to 75 years of age.

Cauda Equina Syndrome

The cauda equina is a cluster of nerves and nerve roots at the end of your spine. If you’ve recently experienced spinal trauma, you may be at risk of cauda equina syndrome. This can also happen if you have an underlying condition like a spinal tumor or a lumbar herniated disc.

Damage to the cauda equina often results in severe impairments to your legs. You may also experience sexual dysfunction or numbness in your inner thighs or groin. In addition, you can have difficulty controlling bowel movements or urinating.

Some people may lose the need to pass urine at all. A poor or weak stream may also indicate cauda equina syndrome.


You may have sciatica if you have shooting pain down your leg accompanied by back pain. This condition affects the sciatic nerve, which travels through the lower back and buttocks. Sciatica is often a symptom of a herniated disk, which requires immediate medical attention.

Spinal Infection

Spinal infections occur when harmful microorganisms end up in your spine. This can cause a spinal infection, also known as vertebral osteomyelitis. If left untreated, the infection may travel to the spinal canal and result in an abscess.

This can further damage your spinal cord and its nerve roots. Back pain from a spinal infection is often worse at night. Symptoms may include fever, chills, and redness or swelling around the infected area.

The pain can vary depending on your age and the location of the infection in your spine. Severe cases often have worse symptoms, like weakness, numbness, or even paralysis.

Spinal Tumor

If a cancer patient experiences back pain, it could be a sign that cancer has reached to spine. Back pain is often the first symptom of benign or metastatic spinal tumors. Tumors are more likely to occur in the vertebrae.

If you have a spinal tumor, your back pain may persist regardless of how much rest and medication you take. Leg motor movements may continue to deteriorate. Spinal tumors can also cause fever, chills, and night sweats.

A spinal tumor can also cause cauda equina syndrome.

Other Red Flags for Back Pain

Some symptoms may take longer to manifest or may seem entirely unrelated to back pain. If you notice these additional symptoms of back pain, it’s in your best interest to consult your doctor.

Back Pain That Lasts More Than a Week

Most people aren’t strangers to back pain and will experience it from time to time. Back pain usually goes away after a few days with proper rest and medication. However, if your pain lasts more than a week, it’s best to call your doctor.

Back pain could be the start of a severe underlying condition. Your doctor will help you determine the cause of your back pain before it becomes worse.

Sudden or Unexplained Weight Loss

Have you been losing weight without trying? If you haven’t had any lifestyle or diet changes and continue to lose weight, get help. Back pain accompanied by sudden weight loss is a sign of a tumor or infection.

More Pain in Certain Positions or Times

You may have a spinal infection or fracture if your pain worsens in certain positions. Some back pain can also make it difficult to sleep through the night. In rare cases, patients have cancer or another condition that compresses the nerves.

When Is Back Pain Serious? Getting Help for Back Pain

So, when is back pain serious? Pain in other body parts, a fever, or numbness are good signs that you need medical help. It’s also good practice to seek medical attention immediately after an accident, even if everything feels fine.

Home treatments can relieve the pain, but it’s always best to get professional help. That’s where we come in! Contact us today and get help for back pain.

At New York City Spine Surgery, our standard for excellent care means treating you as a whole person, and not just another spine disorder on a chart.

© Copyright 2024. New York City Spine.  All Rights Reserved.