Usually, back pain is best addressed by a physical therapist, chiropractor, or orthopedic physician. You can call and make an appointment a week or two in the future and use measures like rest and ice to keep yourself comfortable in the meantime. Sometimes, though, back pain is a far more serious problem that really warrants a visit to the emergency room. How do you know the difference? Well, you should head to the ER if any of the following are true.
You have a fever.
People usually assume their back pain is musculoskeletal. However, your kidneys are also located in your lower back, and sometimes back pain is actually a sign that something is wrong with your kidneys. If your back pain is accompanied by a fever, this likely indicates that you have a kidney infection. A kidney infection can easily spread since your blood flows through your kidneys. So, you want to head to the emergency room right away. The doctors there should be able to diagnose you with a urine test, blood test, and maybe some scans. If you do have a kidney infection, you may be given IV antibiotics to nip the infection in the bud. You'll then need to take oral antibiotics to continue fighting the infection at home.
You felt a pull, pop, or crack.
If you injured your back during a specific activity or movement and you felt a pull, pop, or crack when you did it, then it is a good idea to head to the emergency room. It's possible that you just strained a muscle or ligament, but it is also possible you did something more serious — like slip a disc or fracture a vertebrae. This sort of traumatic injury does not always cause the severe, immediate pain you would expect, but it's important to have it diagnosed ASAP because if you move the wrong way, you risk nerve damage and even paralysis. You can expect the ER to send you for x-rays, an MRI, or both.
You're having trouble moving a limb.
If you are struggling to move a leg or arm, then you need to head to the ER for your back pain. You should also head to the ER if you have numbness or tingling in any of your body parts. Back pain accompanied by these symptoms usually indicates that you have a pinched or damaged nerve somewhere. Symptoms only tend to get worse until you get care.
If you think your back pain warrants a trip to the emergency room, just go! It is better to find out you overreacted to a minor problem than under-reacted to serious one. Contact an emergency doctor to learn more.
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