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Low Back Pain - When to Call a Doctor

Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if:

  • Back pain occurs with chest pain or other symptoms of a heart attack.
  • A person has signs of damage to the spine after an injury (such as a car accident, fall, or direct blow to the spine). Signs may include:
    • Being unable to move part of the body.
    • Severe back or neck pain.
    • Weakness, tingling, or numbness in the arms or legs.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

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Unless you are totally immobilized from a back injury, your doctor probably will examine your range of motion and nerve function and touch your body to locate the area of discomfort. Blood and urine tests may be done to determine if the pain is caused by an infection or other systemic problem.   X-rays are useful in pinpointing broken bones or other skeletal defects. They can sometimes help locate problems in connective tissue. To analyze soft-tissue or disc damage, computed tomography (CT) or...

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  • You have new numbness in your legs or numbness in your legs that is getting worse.
  • You have new weakness in your legs or weakness in your legs that is getting worse. (This could make it hard to stand up.)
  • You lose control of your bladder or bowels.
  • You have new or increased back pain with fever, painful urination, or other signs of a urinary tract infection.
  • You have long-term back pain that suddenly gets much worse, and you did not cause it by being more active.
  • You have a history of cancer or HIV infection, and you have new or increased back pain.
  • Pain wakes you from sleep.

For more information, see the topic Back Problems and Injuries.

Watchful waiting

Most low back pain doesn't require a visit to a doctor.

If the pain doesn't get better after 1 or 2 days and you can't do your normal daily activities, call your doctor.

If you still have mild to moderate pain after at least 2 weeks of home treatment, talk with your doctor. He or she may want to check for problems that may be causing your back pain.

Who to see

The following health professionals can diagnose the cause of back pain, evaluate back injuries, and start treatment.

You may also be referred to one of the following specialists:

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: August 16, 2013
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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