Back pain is one of the most common aches and pains experienced in modern society. Often caused by a pulled or weak muscle, back pain typically goes away with a few stretches and some rest.
But sometimes, back pain can be an indication of a much rarer and more serious condition. The back pain symptoms below should be taken seriously and discussed with a medical professional as soon as possible.
Common Causes of Back Pain
Back pain is a generalized condition with many possible causes. Acute pain is usually caused by a specific trigger, often injury or strain. Chronic pain, which lasts longer than 3-6 months, is much less common.
According to the Mayo Clinic, causes of back pain include (1):
- Muscle or ligament strain: Repeated heavy lifting or a sudden awkward movement may strain back muscles and spinal ligaments. If your muscles are weak, straining them regularly can cause painful muscle spasms.
- Bulging or ruptured disks: Spinal disks act as cushions between the bones (vertebrae) in your spine. The inside of these disks is soft and can bulge or rupture during injury. This, in turn, may apply pressure to a spinal nerve. Oddly enough, it’s possible for this to occur without you experiencing back pain. An x-ray is all you need to diagnose the condition.
- Arthritis: Osteoarthritis can affect any bone in your body, even the spine and pelvic bone. This causes pain in the lower back.
- Skeletal irregularities: Scoliosis, a condition causing spinal curvature, is a possible cause of chronic back pain. Scoliosis is treated by wearing a specialized back brace and may require corrective surgery.
Chronic back pain can also be the symptom of a dangerous or even fatal disease.
6 Back Pain Symptoms that Aren’t Caused by Sore Muscles
These back pain symptoms aren’t as straightforward as a muscle knot and should be taken seriously. Don’t be afraid to call the hospital or your family clinic for an in-depth examination if experience any of the symptoms below.
1. Losing Control of Your Bowels and Bladder
The bladder is located in the lower abdomen, so it can be affected by nerve disorders such as cauda equina syndrome.
Cauda equina syndrome is an emergency medical condition that calls for urgent surgical intervention, often within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms. Thankfully, this rare disorder only affects about 1 in 33, 00 people.
“Cauda equina syndrome (CES) is a rare but serious condition that describes extreme pressure and swelling of the nerves at the end of the spinal cord….The cauda equina is responsible for sensory and motor innervation to the pelvis and lower limbs, as well as bowel and bladder function. If the cauda equina is damaged by inflammation or compression in the low back, symptoms may be severe and may develop quickly,” writes Spine-Health (2).
These are the most common causes of cauda equina syndrome include (3):
- A herniation (bulging) of a spinal disk in the lumbar area that presses on the nerves (the most common cause).
- Narrowing of the spinal canal (stenosis).
- A spinal lesion or tumor.
- A spinal infection, inflammation, hemorrhage or fracture.
- A complication from a severe lumbar spine injury such as a car crash, fall or another traumatic injury such as a stabbing.
- A birth defect such as an abnormal connection between blood vessels (arteriovenous malformation).
If the condition isn’t treated promptly, patients will likely experience paralysis, complete loss of bladder and/or bowel control, sexual dysfunction, difficulty walking, and/or other neurological and physical problems.
Other symptoms include:
- Severe lower back pain.
- Pain, numbness or weakness in one or both legs that causes you to stumble or have trouble getting up from a chair.
- Loss of or altered sensations in your legs, buttocks, inner thighs, backs of your leg, or feet that is severe or gets worse and worse.
- Sudden sexual dysfunction
2. Nighttime Pain
Pain that hits during the night is often caused by an awkward sleeping position or muscles pulled during the day. However, if your pain hits as soon as you head to bed, and doesn’t improve by changing position, you may be suffering from a spinal issue. Probable causes include a possible tumor or spinal bone infection (4).
Tumors may also cause other types of back pain, especially pain that grows steadily and is mostly unaffected by position and activity. Cancerous tumors are also accompanied by pain that worsens with weight bearing, extreme fatigue, and other signs of being unwell.
Visit your doctor as soon as possible if you experience any of these symptoms, as well as (5):
- Unexplained weight loss
- Change in bowel habits of bladder function
- Unusual bleeding
- Lumps in your back
3. Hard to Pinpoint Pain
Experiencing generalized pain anywhere in your back may seem innocent, but it’s a tell-tell sign of heart problems. In fact, if your pain can’t be pinpointed to muscle knots or sore joints, you may be experiencing the first stages of a heart attack, especially the pain is spreading from your chest (6).
If you experience any of these symptoms, go to the ER immediately:
- Chest discomfort (uncomfortable chest pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain, burning or heaviness)
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body (neck, jaw, shoulder, arms, back)
- Shortness of breath
- Shortness of breath
Symptoms vary between people, so don’t take the risk if you feel like something isn’t quite right and call emergency medical services immediately. In fact, some people do not experience any chest pain while others may have only mild chest pain or discomfort or may experience only one symptom.
After calling 911, stop all activity. Sit or lie down, in whatever position is most comfortable. If you take nitroglycerin, take your normal dosage or take an aspirin to break up the blood clot that is causing the heart attack. Rest and wait for emergency medical personnel to arrive. When they arrive, make sure to tell them the medications your regularly take or have taken throughout the day.
4. Morning Stiffness
The older you get, the harder it can be to wake up in the morning. While some aches and pains are nothing to worry about, pain lasting more than 30 minutes after waking up can be cause for alarm. This is especially true if the pain worsens when you aren’t moving. The likely reason for your discomfort is ankylosing spondylitis, a form of inflammatory arthritis that can cause your vertebrae to fuse together if left untreated.
Ankylosing spondylitis also increases your risk of heart disease and stroke, so you really don’t want to ignore it. Talk to your doctor and change your diet to include more anti-inflammatory foods to support your recovery.
5. Height Loss
Other symptoms include:
- Sudden onset of back pain
- Standing or walking will usually make the pain worse
- Lying on one’s back makes the pain less intense
- Limited spinal mobility
- Deformity and disability
Left untreated, you’ll likely end up with a stooped posture, and even breathing and digestive problems. Hence, it’s important that you speak to your doctor to begin an appropriate treatment, possibly including a back brace, pain meds, physical therapy, and, in some cases, surgery.
6. Clammy or Sweaty Skin
Sudden pain in your abdomen or back, as well as excessive sweating and pain spreading from your abdomen or back to your pelvis, legs, or buttocks can indicate an abdominal aortic aneurysm. It occurs when the aorta, the vessel that carries blood from your heart down to your abdomen, legs, and pelvis experiences a localized, blood-filled balloon-like bulge in its arterial wall. When the aneurysm ruptures, internal bleeding occurs (8).
According to Healthline, risk factors for AAA include (9):
- being male
- being over age 60
- having a family history of heart conditions and diseases
- having diabetes
- being obese or overweight
- having high blood pressure, especially if you’re between 35 and 60 years old
- having high cholesterol or fatty buildup in the blood vessels (atherosclerosis)
- living a sedentary lifestyle
- having had trauma to your abdomen or other damage to your midsection
- smoking tobacco products
Diagnosing AAA often requires a CT scan of the abdomen. The condition is then remedied thanks to open abdominal surgery or endovascular surgery.
These 6 back pain symptoms are easy to spot if you carefully monitor your health every day. To avoid confusing them with muscle-related pain, exercise regularly, stretch properly, take regular Epsom baths, and massage the pain away! Also, if you experience chronic muscle pain, don’t be afraid to get professional help for a certified massage therapist, physical therapist, or chiropractor.