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You might be surprised to learn that 80 percent of the time, back and neck pain is simply a result of strain or soft tissue injury. In many of these simple cases of back or neck strain, your condition will improve with specialized exercises, rest and anti-inflammatory medicine. Other times, you may need to see a doctor, perhaps even as soon as possible.
Briefly, here are some rules of thumb to keep in mind about your back or neck problems:
- Trauma - If you fall down, are in a car accident or do anything abrupt that may have fractured your back, go to a spine specialty clinic within 24 hours.
- Radicular pain - Anytime you have back or neck pain that radiates down into your leg or arm, you probably need to be evaluated by a spine specialist within two to three days, especially if it is getting worse.
- Persistent pain - If pain limited to the low back or neck area does not begin to subside after three days with anti-inflammatories and rest, then you probably need to be evaluated by a spine specialist. For example, if you first noticed back or neck pain on Monday, and it is now Thursday, and the pain is not getting better, it is time to see a spine specialist to find out what is causing your problem.
- Anytime you experience loss of control of your bowel or bladder, that is an EMERGENCY signal that you need to see a spine specialist THE SAME DAY. If you wait too long, you could suffer permanent paralysis of the nerves that control these functions.
- Foot drop - If you notice that your toe is dragging as you walk, this is a DANGER SIGNAL for serious neurological problems. Again, if you delay, you could experience permanent damage. This problem should be seen within 24 hours by a spine specialist.
- Weakness, numbness or pain that extends below a knee or elbow is a serious symptom. Go to a spine center within two days.