When To Seek Help for Low Back Pain
| by Dr. Matt Weaver, DC |
Low Back Pain is easily THE most common ailment I treat in clinical practice. I am a chiropractor after all. The interesting thing about low back pain is that it affects people of all ages and backgrounds. It can come on suddenly (as in an injury or accident) or be a smoldering issue due to underlying causes (like poor posture). Surprisingly, many cases of low back pain resolve on their own with rest and self-care.
However, ignoring persistent or severe low back pain can lead to long-term complications and decreased quality of life. I'll help you suss out when you should seek help for your back pain; plus some of the potential causes and treatment options.
When Is It Time to Seek Help for your Low Back Pain?
There are a few red flags associated with low back pain that signal a need for more help. Some of these are obvious. These are my recommended guidelines for when it is time to schedule an appointment for assessment:
Persistent Pain: If your low back pain has persisted for more than a few weeks, it's time to consult a healthcare provider. Chronic low back pain can be a sign of an underlying issue that needs attention. When you come in to the clinic, I can perform various musculoskeletal tests to better understand the mechanism of injury/root cause. For low-level back pain, I often look beyond the spine-- it can be related to gait, hip mechanics, foot position, or even jaw tension.
Severe Pain: Pain that is severe, unbearable, or accompanied by other concerning symptoms such as numbness, tingling, weakness, or bowel or bladder problems requires immediate medical attention. These could be signs of a serious condition, such as a herniated disc or spinal cord compression. When warranted, I can order medical images (X-Ray, MRI, CT) to better diagnose these conditions. Follow-up care varies depending on severity.
Pain After an Injury: If your low back pain follows an injury, like a fall or car accident, or if it is related to lifting heavy objects, do not wait to be assessed. These events can cause damage to the spine or surrounding structures. Although rest is generally recommended first, you should move forward with getting an appointment on the books. Particularly in the case of an accident, the timeline for action is dictated by insurance companies and legal counsel.
Pain That Radiates: If your low back pain radiates down your leg(s) or is accompanied by leg weakness, it might be a sign of sciatica or nerve compression. This warrants a medical evaluation. Similarly, I will order medical images as needed and determine a treatment plan that fits your condition. I have relationships with orthopedic professionals for referral if necessary.
Fever and Unexplained Weight Loss: Low back pain accompanied by a fever, unexplained weight loss, or night sweats may indicate an underlying infection or systemic issue and should be investigated promptly. I feel like this is an appropriate opportunity to state: I'm not a hero. When I make an assessment that is beyond my scope, I can help you find a medical professional qualified to address the problem.
The decision tree below does a great job of visually prompting the choice to seek help for Low Back Pain:
Common Causes of Low Back Pain
Understanding the common causes of low back pain can help you determine the best plan of action for treating it. When you see me in the clinic, I will ask questions and perform orthopedic/neurological tests to better pinpoint the root cause of your pain. In some cases, these tests are diagnostic. However, sometimes further medical imaging in warranted. I will order X-Rays, MRIs, or CT scans if necessary.
There are three categories to consider with persistent low back pain - muscular, skeletal, and nerve-related.
Muscular: The muscles and soft-tissues in the lower back can be strained by overexertion, lifting heavy objects, or sudden movements. In this case, rehabilitation exercises and soft-tissue therapy are first line treatments.
Nerve-Related: Disc Herniation, Sciatica, and Spinal Stenosis are three nerve-related conditions contributing to low-back pain. Most often, it is a compression of the nerves that causes the sensation of pain. This can come-and-go depending on position. It can also be exacerbated by overuse and stay inflamed. The good news? Resolution does not always require surgery. Instead, I will utilize decompression therapy/spinal traction, Pulsed Electromagnetic Therapy, Anti-Inflammatories, and Manual Therapy to minimize pain and restore quality of life.
Skeletal: Scoliosis and arthritis are two skeletal conditions that may lead to pain, stiffness, and chronic low back pain. Chiropractic and Physical Therapy will not "fix" these problems. Instead, I focus on management of the pain and pro-active therapies to prevent flares. A personalized at-home rehabilitation program can be life-changing for patients with chronic low back pain due to skeletal anomalies.
It's important to remember that gaining a diagnosis for your low back pain only provides a label. You must be willing to ACT on that diagnosis if you truly want to find resolution.
I am here as a guide, but passive therapy is rarely the fix. Instead, it will require some commitment from your end to doing the prescribed "work" and showing up for yourself.
Trying to live a life to completely avoid pain at all costs is folly. The more we normalize it....the less surprised we will be when it comes. -Dr. Matt Weaver, Understanding Pain
Common Treatment Modalities for Low Back Pain
After I assess your pain, there are various treatments I use to manage and treat on-going low back issues. Not all treatments will work for everyone! That's the beauty of personalized medicine. By working outside of the insurance model, I have the time and ability to listen, educate, and follow-up based on your needs.
These are the things I use in clinical practice: Spinal Manipulations/Adjustments, Soft-Tissue Therapy (massage, trigger point release, cupping, Graston), Exercise-Based Rehabilitation (Strengthening, Stretching), Heat/Cold Therapy, Electrical Stimulation (TENS), Pulsed Electromagnetic Stimulation (PEMF), Spinal Decompression/Traction, Herbal Supplements and Lifestyle Intervention.
Want to better understand and address LOW BACK PAIN ?
I built the Low Back Relief & Resilience Program as a FREE RESOURCE to help you manage your low back pain at home. The PDF includes suggested rehab exercises and programming for moving through three phases of low back pain: relief, bridging the gap, and resilience. << Click here to download the Low Back R&R Program >>
THIS RESOURCE IS DESIGNED TO HELP YOU TROUBLE SHOOT AND MANAGE YOUR OWN PAIN. THIS MAY WORK FOR SOME, BUT OTHERS MAY NEED A MORE TAILORED APPROACH. IF THAT IS YOU, PLEASE CONSULT WITH ME OR YOUR TRUSTED HEALTHCARE PROVIDER TO CREATE A PLAN THAT IS SPECIFIC TO YOU AND YOUR GOALS.
Whether you’re dealing with an injury (sports, car accident, life) or looking to enhance your physical performance, Dr. Matt can help you. He sees patients at both our Cherry Creek Clinic and our South Broadway Clinic. Click here to see availability.
“I'm not here to fix. I'm here to guide.”
Have a specific need or question about Chiropractic Services? Reach out!
Dr. Matt Weaver, DC sees patients in-person at The Facility in Cherry Creek and The Facility on South Broadway. He offers chiropractic services for a range of conditions.
Learn more about Matt's Philosophy here.
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