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Back Pain 101

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Anand Joshi, MD

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Eight in 10 people will experience back pain at some point in their lives. In most cases, the pain is harmless and goes away over time. Let’s discuss some common concerns about back pain:

Why does my back hurt?

There are various reasons why the back can hurt, including muscle pain, disc pain, joint pain, or nerve pain. In most cases, these are not harmful or dangerous. Of course, there are some instances when pain can be a symptom of a more serious problem, such as a fracture, infection, or cancer affecting the spine. Thankfully though, these conditions are very rare, and usually only affect people with special risk factors.


My back has been bothering me for days. What should I do?

First off, don’t be alarmed! Remember that back pain is extremely common, and usually not associated with anything harmful or dangerous. An over-the-counter anti-inflammatory, combined with some ice may be very helpful. Although you may need to take it easy for a while, it is best to stay as active as possible, and to generally avoid bed-rest. Your symptoms will often improve over time.


When should I see a doctor for back pain?

Pain that is severe, lasts several weeks, and keeps you from participating in normal, daily activities, should not be ignored. Even if you have not had pain for several weeks, you should seek medical care sooner if you have special risk factors for cancer, infection, or fractures that may affect the spine. Finally, remember to contact a doctor immediately if you notice fever, chills, or new neurological symptoms. These could include new numbness, weakness or changes in urination or bowel movements.


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