How Do You Know a Back Injury Is Serious?

April 17th, 2023 Becki Andrus
How Do You Know a Back Injury Is Serious?

People of all ages complain about back pain occasionally. Whether you slept wrong or your back is a little tight after moving heavy furniture, these aches and pains will typically go away with time,

But there are instances when back pain or an injury could be a more severe problem. If you suspect a serious back injury, the best thing you can do is visit an orthopedic specialist immediately. These injuries can lead to life-altering complications, which is why immediate treatment is necessary.

Types of Severe Back Injuries

Any time trauma occurs to the back and spine, there is a risk of physical damage that could affect the bones, muscles, nerves, or connective tissues. Injuries are the most common reason for back pain, and these injuries can result from many different activities and movements.

Minor injuries might happen from over-twisting the spine, doing yard work, or lifting a heavy object. Any time your back muscles are used in an uncommon way for your typical lifestyle, it could cause a strain.

There are also many causes of serious or severe back injuries.

  • Automobile accidents
  • Falling from a high place
  • Trauma to the back or spine (such as a direct blow)
  • Falling hard on the buttocks
  • A penetrating injury (such as a stab wound)

These examples show ways that acute injuries might occur. In other situations, a person might be experiencing ongoing back pain due to a chronic condition or old injuries.

Regardless of the type of back injury you are experiencing, it’s wise to schedule a consultation with a spine specialist to rule out serious issues and minimize potential complications in the future.

Symptoms of a Back Injury

When a back injury happens, the symptoms can range from mild to severe.

  • Pain
  • Back is sore to the touch
  • Pain gets worse with movement
  • Sneezing, laughing, or coughing aggravates the pain
  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty moving
  • Unable to stand up straight
  • Spasms in the back muscles
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Nerve pain radiating down one or both legs (sciatica)

Pay attention to the severity and frequency of these symptoms to determine if you need to see a doctor. If the symptoms are mild, then a few at-home remedies (such as rest, ice, or heat) can be helpful to alleviate the symptoms and support your recovery.

Minor back injuries typically heal on their own within a few weeks. You might need to make minor changes to your lifestyle to support healing and recovery, such as taking a break from sports or training during this time.

Watch for These Symptoms of a Serious Back Injury

How do you know if you have a minor backache that will go away or if you are experiencing a serious back injury? Symptoms of a severe condition go beyond pain and discomfort.

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Blood in the urine
  • Paralysis or limited mobility
  • Fever
  • Numbness affecting the arms, hands, legs, or feet
  • Incontinence or difficulty with urination or passing stool

If you are experiencing these symptoms, then it’s critical that you seek medical care as soon as possible. These symptoms could be signs of a medical emergency, so you shouldn’t delay a visit with a medical specialist.

When to See a Back Specialist

There are several indications that you might benefit from visiting with an orthopedic doctor or back specialist. For example, if you have an acute injury, it’s a good idea to schedule a consultation right away to rule out serious issues and avoid future complications.

So, most patients are advised to meet with an orthopedic specialist immediately after trauma or an accident.

Another reason you might choose to visit a back specialist is that you have chronic pain. If the symptoms last for a few weeks or months, then it’s time for a consultation to diagnose the root issue.

The Difference Between Muscle Strain and a Disc Injury

When you meet with a spine specialist, one of the priorities is determining whether the back pain symptoms are due to a muscle strain or herniated disc.

Everyday activities or overexertion are often the cause of muscle sprains and strains. For example, if your back starts hurting after running, sports, or lifting, it is likely a muscle issue. Also, muscle strains and sprains are localized in one part of the body – the area of injury.

On the other hand, a herniated disc often occurs due to ongoing wear and tear. The symptoms radiate beyond the affected area. For example, you might have nerve issues that move down the leg, such as pain or tingling. Or, a herniated disc can cause muscle weakness, resulting in the loss of control of the bladder or bowels.

Will a Serious Back Injury Heal on Its Own?

The prognosis depends on the underlying cause of back pain. But most serious injuries won’t heal without medical treatments.

A severe back injury can take weeks or months of ongoing medical care before you start noticing improvements in your overall health and pain levels. If you are consistent about following treatment recommendations from a back specialist, it can speed up the recovery time so you can return to a normal lifestyle as soon as possible.

What to Expect: Treatments for a Back Injury

The most important decision is choosing an experienced doctor to help with diagnosis and your treatment plan. The best solution is to visit a spine specialist, such as an orthopedic surgeon.

  • Examination and Diagnosis: The first step is to determine the underlying cause of your back pain. This diagnostic process often involves a physical examination, digital imaging, and an in-depth conversation about your symptoms and medical history.
  • Medications: There are times when over-the-counter or prescription medications can be helpful for immediate relief. Not only will these medications minimize the pain, but it’s also easier to move forward with other treatments for long-term term results (such as physical therapy). Medications might include pain relievers and/or muscle relaxers.
  • Physical Therapy: Strengthening the muscles and improving mobility can be critical during recovery. A physical therapist can help with exercises that strengthen abdominal and back muscles while also improving flexibility and mobility at the same time.
  • Injections: Sometimes, cortisone injections can be helpful in managing inflammation and decreasing pain. This treatment can be injected into the joint or affected area of the spine to provide immediate relief.
  • Surgery: Certain physical issues might need to be corrected with surgical intervention. Surgery is typically a last resort when other minimally-invasive treatments haven’t worked. These treatments can be helpful for patients with referring nerve pain due to herniated disks or other back problems that narrow the openings in the spine.

Call the Local Back Specialists

Whether you have an acute back injury or chronic back pain, our team at Orthopedic Associates is here to assist. Call us for a diagnosis and personalized treatment plan. You can book an appointment online or call our office at your convenience: (972) 420-1776.


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