When to Visit the ER for Back Pain

While many people tolerate occasional aches and pains in their back, severe back pain may indicate a larger problem. But how do you know if your back pain, or that of a loved one, has reached the point that it requires an emergency department visit?

If at any point you feel that your condition is serious enough that it can’t wait for a visit with your primary care physician, you should visit the emergency department. However, if you’re not sure whether your back pain deems emergency care, consider these guidelines.

If You Have These Symptoms, You May Require Emergency Care

Lower back pain, which can occur anywhere from your rib cage to your buttocks, is often the result of lifting, reaching, twisting and stretching. Upper and middle back pain, in most cases, does get better with time and rest. If your back pain is unrelenting and not relieved by rest, you should immediately visit the closest emergency department. If the pain is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, you should also seek emergency care.

  • Fever
  • Numbness
  • Weakness
  • Bladder or bowel incontinence (loss of control)

If You Have These Medical Conditions, You May Require Emergency Care

For individuals with certain medical conditions, back pain may signify a more serious issue. If you have any of these medical conditions and are experiencing severe or chronic back pain, you should visit an emergency department. 

  • History of cancer
  • Recent immunosuppression, either from surgery or prescribed drugs
  • Any recent injury or trauma, especially in the elderly
  • Prolonged use of steroids
  • Intravenous drug use

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