Back Pain: When to See a Doctor

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on May 06, 2021

Back Needs Help Now

Certain back pain symptoms mean you should call your doctor ASAP.  Among them:

* Back trauma from a bad fall or car accident.  You could have a fracture.

* New or progressive motor weakness, sometimes with numbness or tingling. This could be spinal cord compression.

* Loss of bowel or bladder function. This might point to cauda equina syndrome. The nerve roots in the lower end of the spinal cord become compressed and paralysis of the legs can sometimes occur. 

* Pain for 6 weeks or more.

Other red flags indicating that your back pain should be evaluated immediately include:

* History of cancer or unexplained weight loss

* History of immune system problems

* Fever

Can't Sleep?

All is fine during the day, but as soon as your head hits the pillow your back starts to hurt, making sleep near impossible. Sound like you? Pain that wakes you up in the middle of the night can be the sign of disc degeneration or a sprain, or something more serious like a tumor, say experts. Bottom line: Nighttime back pain shouldn’t be ignored. Call your doctor right away.