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Nighttime Back Pain

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Can Nocturnal Back Pain Be a Sign of Something Serious?

Guidelines for discovering serious spinal health problems list a number of "red flags," among them nocturnal back pain.

Nocturnal back pain can be a symptom of spinal tumors. It could be a primary tumor, one that originates in the spine, or it could be a metastatic tumor, one that results from cancer that started elsewhere in the body and then spread to the spine.

Nocturnal back pain is also a symptom of spinal bone infection (osteomyelitis) and ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a condition that can cause the spine to fuse in a fixed, immobile position.

Other "red flags" include:

  • Back pain that spreads down one or both legs
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling in legs
  • New problems with bowel or bladder control
  • Pain or throbbing in your abdomen
  • Fever
  • Spots warm to the touch
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • History of cancer
  • History of a suppressed immune system
  • History of trauma

If one or more of these symptoms accompanies back pain -- especially if you have a history of cancer -- see your doctor right away. It's also important to call the doctor if your back pain is the result of a recent injury.

It's important to note that it's rare that nighttime back pain is caused by a tumor, infection, or AS. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on July 21, 2015
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