9 Signs Your Back Pain Is Actually an Emergency, Research Shows

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Your pain wakes you up at night

Back pain from overuse or a small injury should feel better when you lie down and rest, Dr. Anand says. But if you can’t find any comfortable position and/or you can’t sleep because of the pain you need to call your doctor, he says. “This could be from any number of conditions and diseases but it’s very serious,” he explains. “If your pain is combined with a loss of appetite, fever, or weakness or numbness, get seen immediately.”

You’ve got stomach pain too

Localized back pain will rarely migrate to the stomach. Stomach pain, however, can often be felt in the back, which means that your back pain could be originating from the abdomen, Dr. Anand says. Stomach pain accompanied by back pain can be caused by many different abdominal issues, including internal bleeding, cancer, or even an abdominal aortic aneurysm, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Acute lower back pain that does not follow an obvious trauma or movement associated with the onset of pain, can be a symptom of an enlargement of the aorta (large artery) in the abdomen, called an abdominal aortic aneurysm. If your pain is severe and continuous, get to the ER, says Dr. Anand.

You’re also having pain while peeing

Intense—some call it “screaming”—back pain is a telltale sign of a kidney stone trying to make it’s way through your ureter, says Dr. Ramin. If your back pain occurs in spasms and/or you feel pain when trying to urinate or notice blood in your urine, you may need to head to the ER to be diagnosed and treated, he says. You’ll likely be given painkillers and an IV to help flush out the stone.

You have osteoporosis

If you have known osteoporosis and your back pain comes on suddenly, you could have fractured a vertebrae. “Osteoporotic fractures, also known as insufficiency fractures, are very common in the elderly,” Dr. Anand says. “They may not even feel the break when it happens but the pain becomes debilitating over time.” Common causes could be a recent fall, lifting something heavy, or even a violent cough.

You’re experiencing numbness

If you’re experiencing back pain and numbness, especially in the legs, it may indicate an injury to one or more lumbar nerves, or spinal damage, Dr. Anand says. This can lead to paralysis if not treated in time. “Any neurological symptoms, like weakness or numbness, with back pain indicate something very serious and should never be ignored,” he says.

You feel a lump in your breast or armpit

Back pain can be a lesser known symptom of breast cancer, says Dr. Denduluri. Breast cancer can spread before it’s caught, causing symptoms in body parts that have nothing to do with your breasts, she says, adding that while it’s more common in women, men can also get breast cancer.

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