6 signs you should consider seeing an orthopaedic specialist for back pain
Most of us will experience back pain at some point in life. In 2017-18, 4 million Australians, or 1 in 6 of us, experienced back pain and 181,000 people were hospitalised for it.
Common causes of back pain include poor posture, an injury or overdoing it when exercising. Back pain is very common and often resolves given time, rest and over-the-counter painkillers. Sometimes, though, it’s a sign of something more significant.
Causes of severe back pain
Sometimes back pain is caused by an underlying condition such as:
- A herniated disc: The discs act as the shock absorber between the vertebrae bones of your spine, each one helping to make your back more flexible for movement. When the outer layer of your disc herniates or tears apart, its centre will begin to leak. This leakage can cause irritation and add pressure on your spinal cord and its nerves, resulting in back pain.
- Sciatica: The sciatic nerve is the thickest and longest nerve found in the body. It begins as three different nerve roots (L4, L5 and S1) in your lower back and stretches down the back of each leg until it reaches your feet. When this nerve or nerve roots becomes compressed or inflamed, it can cause shooting pain from the lower back to radiate down your leg and all the way down your foot. It may be accompanied by weakness, numbness, and a tingling sensation.
- Infection or Tumour: These are the most sinister of diagnoses that cause severe back pain. Thankfully they are not common but need to be diagnosed quickly to get the best outcome. Pain often gets worse over days and weeks and is present at rest and night. Fever and sweats or unexplained weight loss can occur with these conditions and indicate the need for full work up.
6 back pain warning signs
So, how do you tell whether your back pain is serious or not? While most back pain will get better by itself, you should see a doctor if you have any of the following 6 signs.
- Pain that persists for more than a week. If you have back pain and have been treating it at home for more than a week with no signs of improvement, then it’s time to see a doctor.
- Severe back pain that’s affecting other areas. Back pain that leads to pain or tingling in your legs, feet, arms or hands could indicate a damaged or bulging disc in your back.
- Weakness, numbness or tingling. There are many nerves in your back, since your central nervous system is housed in your spinal column and your peripheral nervous system branches out from it. Conditions or injuries that affect your vertebrae or discs can sometimes also pinch your nerves causing sciatica or nerve root radicular pain.
- Pain with a pattern. Does your pain feel significantly worse at certain times or when you’re in certain positions like lying down. Pain that’s worse at night can also be a warning sign of something more serious.
- Problems with your bowels or urination. Cauda equina syndrome is a rare condition that involves severe back pain accompanied by pain, weakness and numbness in both legs and difficulties controlling your bladder and bowels.
- Unexplained weight loss or fevers. If the weight is falling off for no apparent reason, if you’ve lost your appetite or feel nauseous, and if you have persistent back pain, then see a doctor who may investigate the possibility of a spinal tumour or infection.
So, now you know which signs of back pain are serious enough to see a doctor. But what type of doctor should you see for back pain?
Orthopaedic spine surgeons understand back pain
Orthopaedic spine surgeons are doctors who specialise in spinal pathology that causes pain. Our training involves the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of any disorders relating to your bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles.
Equipped with this extensive knowledge and training, we use both surgical and non-surgical techniques to treat injuries and diseases relating to your musculoskeletal system. That can include pain-relief injections and other therapies for patients who don’t need surgery plus a range of procedures for patients who do.
While a little rest and some pain relief can help ease your back pain, it’s important to know when you need proper help. When simple measures are not working for your back pain, consider a consult with an orthopaedic spine specialist.
How The Victorian Orthopaedic Spine Service can help
If you’re concerned about persistent back pain and related symptoms like weight loss or leg pain, then please make an appointment with the Victorian Orthopaedic Spine Service.
We’ll examine you and run any necessary tests to trace your back pain to its source and diagnose your condition. From there, we can recommend the right treatment to help alleviate your symptoms.
Make an appointment today (you’ll need a referral from your GP first).
All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion. Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks.
About Dr David Edis
Dr David Edis is an Orthopaedic and Spine Surgeon. David’s areas of special interest include the management of adult spinal conditions as well as hip and knee replacements. He has extensive experience in all facets of spine surgery from simple to complex, covering cervical to lumbo-pelvic conditions. He is an active researcher and medical educator and believes in lifelong learning. He is constantly updating his skills and helping other surgeons.