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Upper and Middle Back Pain - When to Call a Doctor

In most cases, back pain gets better with home treatment. So unless you have signs of a severe illness, injury, or heart attack, you can give your back pain some time to work itself out before you call your doctor.

Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if:

  • Back pain occurs with chest pain or other symptoms of a heart attack. Symptoms of a heart attack include:
    • Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in your chest.
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in your back, neck, jaw, upper belly, or one or both shoulders or arms. See a picture of areas where symptoms may be felt camera.gif.
    • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded.
    • A fast or uneven heartbeat.
  • 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, legs, chest, or belly.
    • Loss of bowel or bladder control.
  • You can't walk or stand at all because of weakness and not just because it hurts too much.
  • You suddenly lose bowel or bladder control, even if you were not injured.

Watchful waiting

Watchful waiting is a wait-and-see approach. If you get better on your own, you won't need treatment. If you get worse, you and your doctor will decide what to do next. If your back pain is mild to moderate, it probably will get better on its own. You can try home treatment to relieve your symptoms. If you don't feel better in 1 to 2 weeks, call your doctor.

Be sure to call your doctor right away if you start to have other symptoms or you have:

  • Numbness.
  • Weakness.
  • Fever.
  • Urinary symptoms, such as pain when you urinate.
  • Pain that is getting worse.
  • Pain that you can't manage at home.

Who to see

Health care professionals who often diagnose the cause of back pain include:

If your back pain is severe or long-lasting, health professionals who can treat you include:

You can also get care from:

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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