How do I know if my back pain is serious?

By Fleur Cradock – Senior McTimoney Chiropractor

So, how do you know if your back pain is serious? You know, when you have ever experienced really severe back pain, you can feel really concerned and really worrying and actually think my goodness, what have I done? What does this mean? Will it ever go away? Does it mean something more sinister than just normal back pain? There’s sadly no such thing as normal back pain as pain isn’t normal. I see and I hear this question a lot.

I see patients when they first come to visit us at the clinic and they go you know, the pain’s just like, not even 10 outta 10, they’re like saying 20 outta 10, 30 outta 10. Sometimes if patients say they are at the top of the scale they get worried. And so, one of the ways that I can reassure patients and establish whether it’s serious or not is when we go through their clinical case history, by doing this we’re determining what’s called red flags.

When we take the record card and undertake the physical assessment clinically, we’re looking at things that are a little bit more sinister, things that could be related to other parts of their body, and things that would be not a concern. But also, things that might be a bit more concerning that might need further investigations. So that’s one way of telling. Secondly, there is not always a good correlation between severity of pain and severity of the condition. So, symptoms are not great indicator of how bad a condition is or how serious a condition is. What I would suggest is to seek some professional help. Other things that we look for as a possible red flag are the associated symptoms for it, does your back pain change, according to your position, so we will ask you to think of about things that might aggravate your pain or ease your pain.

Is it certain movements? Is it certain specific movement? Is it certain activities? Does it start at a certain time of day? Does it change by certain body movements? Body functions? Does it change according to what you eat, does it change, according to how you lie down and things of that nature. It may seem that we will ask A LOT of medical questions both pre and post pain, but all of these are relevant so we can understand you as the individual and provide the best care for you.

We will get you to move, what can you do, what can’t you do in movement. So those are kind of big our clues as to what is going on that we use when you have your first initial consultation, to have it investigated, we’re looking for those sorts of clues to help guide us as to what’s going on. The other thing is, is to look at what medications you’re taking as well. Sometimes you can have side effects of medications that can be quite severe. Then we will perform tests which are orthopaedic and neurological in nature, these are tests we were trained in during our master’s degrees and we look at the results to again help us understand further what it is going on, create treatment plans or where needed refer on.

People often say to me, oh, you know, I’m sure you see back pain here all the time. And while that may be true and it is a common thing, just because pain is common, doesn’t make it normal. And that’s true for a lot of things just because it’s common, doesn’t make it normal. This is an important message that we need to try and understand, as what happens is we otherwise get into this mindset that, oh yeah, I can live with it, it’s ok, or its just my age or it will pass.  People will always try and carry on but fundamentally we are not designed to live with pain. When pain develops it is an important indicator not to ignore because that’s a sign of something else going on underneath that’s worth investigating. But before you go seek any professional advice what I would always like my patients to have thought about is not only thought about what things are making it worse, making it better thinking about what’s caused in the past. Have they had a history of this in the past? Is it a recurrence? Is it stopping you from doing day to day activities? That way we can quickly establish the best way forward for our patients, in our treatment plans and if necessary, make a referral. But when in doubt we are always happy to help.

If you are struggling with back pain and would like some help the contact us at The Thornbury Clinic by booking online or calling 01454 838366