At times back pain is caused by a common muscle strain and in other instances, it can be a sign of a more serious medical problem. However, serious back pain related to a medical emergency can result in disability if not treated promptly. It is important to know when back pain could be potentially life-threatening.

There are several symptoms that should prompt you to seek immediate medical attention. These include progressive leg weakness or loss of bladder/bowel control.

When you experience back pain along with sudden incontinence or feel weakness through the legs, hips, and groin area, you could have cauda equina syndrome. This condition is caused by severe compression of the entire nerve sac in your lower spine. However, if left untreated, it can cause paralysis, permanent loss of bladder or bowel control, and loss of feeling and sensation below the lumbar spine.

Symptoms include:

  • Progressive leg weakness and altered sensation in the legs and feet
  • Difficulty walking
  • Loss of sensation in the “saddle” area (inner thighs, buttocks, sacral region)

If you experience unexplained weight loss, appetite loss and neurological problems with pain, this could be a sign of cancer. A spinal tumor lodged in the spine can cause pain in the neck or back as well as neurological problems depending on which nerves are impacted. You may experience back pain that will not go away with rest and can worsen at night. Along with weight loss, you could also experience:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Chills
  • Fever

When severe abdominal pain and lower back pain are apparent, these two symptoms present at the same time continuously you could have an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Often, pain that remains in the back is usually associated with a back injury. However, when it radiates from the abdomen, it is a more serious problem. The aorta is a large organ in your abdomen and when enlarged it can rupture causing internal bleeding. Although, if lower back pain is sudden and there is no obvious cause, seek immediate medical attention. The pain can be so intense that you are unable to stand up straight.

Back Pain from Spinal Infection

Fevers can indicate an infection and a spinal infection can occur if the immune system is weakened substantially. Spinal infections can cause an epidural abscess (a pus-filled cavity) to develop in the spinal column which presses against the nerves. Compressed nerves can impair gross motor function causing paraplegia or quadriplegia.

There are two main types of spinal infection:

Infection after surgery: Infections occur in post-surgical wounds typically in 1% of cases. The risk is higher in those with compromised immune systems. However, when surgical wounds get infected, the first symptoms include a high fever, redness around the incision, and a change in the appearance of drainage from the wound. Infections in the spine after an operation can be successfully treated with antibiotics when caught early enough. In some cases, the pus may need to be drained and the wound is washed.

Vertebral bone infection: A bone infection (osteomyelitis) spreads to the spine from other parts of the body, through your veins. Typically, this is caused by bacteria. Procedures in other areas of the body can cause spinal bone infections and diagnostic testing is required to identify its presence. Furthermore, factors that increase your risk for vertebral bone infection include intravenous drug use, dental surgery, and long-term use of steroids. However, the risk comes from increased exposure of bacteria to your blood.

In most cases, back pain is caused by an injury or obvious muscle strain. Many people will never experience these symptoms. Because of the serious nature of these conditions, knowing the symptoms that require immediate medical attention could save your life.

If you are experiencing back pain, call us at 888-409-8006 for a specialist near you.