Back pain is such a common complaint these days that many people believe their pain will resolve if given enough time. Instead of turning to a doctor, many people remedy back pain with over-the-counter medications and some degree of rest. According to statistics, back pain is the most common reason for missed work in our country. Statistics also tell us that people with back pain often report more days of pain than not in a six-month period. This is indicative of the fact that back pain often persists for much longer than we think it will.
In our New York City Orthopaedic surgery practice, we often see people whose back or neck pain has become unbearable. They’ve procrastinated in seeing a specialist for several different reasons. Some do so because they continued believing that their pain would get better. Some do so because they fear a surgeon will want to do surgery. Rarely does one expect that their pain will become chronic and unmanageable. Too often, it does. Here, we discuss a few ways that you can know it’s time to schedule a consultation with a spine specialist.
You’ve developed pain in your arms or legs.
When pain that has generally affected the back or neck begins to radiate outward, there is an underlying pathology involved. Back pain often occurs when one or more segments of the spine have been damaged in some way. The spine has openings through which nerves travel to the extremities and organs. When pain radiates to the arms, hands, legs, or feet, we know that the nerves are being encroached upon. Radiating pain may indicate a herniated disc or other problem that is compressing one or more nerves. To resolve symptoms, it is necessary to relieve this compression.
You’ve tried physical therapy.
Physical therapy is one of a few conservative approaches that are recommended for back pain management. In many cases, strict adherence to a physical therapy program (attending all sessions and also performing exercises at home as recommended) produces positive results. A typical program is developed to strengthen key muscle groups to support the spine and improve flexibility and range of motion. If the body does not respond as anticipated, it is time to consult with a spinal surgeon for further diagnostic testing and discussion about the potential need for surgery.
Your quality of life has diminished.
This is often the proverbial straw that forces people to see a doctor. Acute back pain from an injury may last a few weeks and feel intense. However, with rest and appropriate care, the acute pain should resolve. When nagging pain continues for months, quality of life suffers. There is no way around this. We see it far too often. Patients say they cannot comfortably get in and out of their car, climb stairs, or perform their job as they used to. These are just a few of the ways that chronic back pain can decrease one’s quality of life.