When to See a Doctor for Back Pain

Back injuries, with their associated pain, are so widespread that they have become the costliest health care problem for those in the 30-50 age range. So says the Journal of the American Medical Association. "Back pain is probably the commonest reason people seek help for pain management other than acute post-surgical pain," says Dr. Michael Ramsay, chief of the department of anesthesiology and pain management at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.

But a key question for many people is when to stop back-pain self-treatment (using ibuprofen or something similar) and begin to see a doctor. Ramsay opined as follows - but first he lauded the body's pain mechanism. "Pain is a wonderful thing," he said.

 "That sounds crazy, but it's your body's way of telling you something is going on and we need to protect this area of the body." So as to when to get medical help to aid the body's painful areas, he suggested the following: 1. See a doctor when pain does not respond to present medications or other strategies. 2. See a doctor when pain becomes so overwhelming that "you can't get up, you can't get dressed."

3. See a doctor when pain continues beyond a reasonable period of time - a relativity short time for severe pain, but more time for less-severe pain. 4. See a doctor when pain occurs together with numbness. "If a nerve injury is associated with the pain, time is of the essence," Ramsay says. "If the nerve is getting compromised, the chance of getting it back is smaller if you don't seek treatment."

5. See a doctor when the pain stirs an overload of stress. "We look at the effect of this pain," Ramsay says. "What is the patient's general health? What's their mobility? Are they depressed? Depression is a factor on the longevity of pain, on the pain continuing."


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