If Your Back Pain Causes This Symptom, Go to the ER, Experts Warn


Most of us experience back pain at some time or other, usually resulting from strain or injury. But experts say there can be other underlying causes for your back pain—and several of them can be serious. In fact, there are a handful of corroborating symptoms which, if present, suggest that your back pain is actually a major medical emergency that could potentially cause permanent paralysis. Read on to learn which surprising symptom may appear alongside back pain, and why you should head straight to the ER if you experience them together.

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See a doctor about your back pain if any of these occur.

According to Duke Health, you should call a doctor about your back pain if it persists for longer than two weeks and prevents you from participating in normal, daily activities. You should also call your doctor any time back pain is severe.

You should seek emergency care for your back pain in a few specific circumstances. These include developing a fever, enduring a serious trauma, feeling weakness in your arms or legs, or experiencing unexplained weight loss associated with your pain. Besides these, there is one additional symptom that experts say could signal a serious condition which is considered a medical emergency.

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If your back pain causes this symptom, go to the ER immediately.

If you experience lower back pain that causes urinary or bowel incontinence, experts say the most common cause is Cauda Equina Syndrome. This occurs when the bundle of nerves at the bottom of the spine become compressed, causing pain, weakness, and numbness in the saddle area (the buttocks, genital region, and inner thighs). In severe cases of Cauda Equina Syndrome, patients require emergency surgery to relieve pressure on the nerves. Without swift intervention, this condition can cause permanent nerve damage or even paralysis in the lower limbs.

Experts say that incontinence presenting alongside back pain is a sign that the case is severe. According to the Cleveland Clinic, roughly 60 percent of patients with Cauda Equina Syndrome experience some form of incontinence. In the remaining 40 percent of cases, patients may experience changes in their urges to use the bathroom. You may either be unable to feel that you need to go, or feel that urge more strongly than before.

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Treating these related conditions could help you avoid Cauda Equina Syndrome.

According to Medical News Today, several spinal conditions can lead to CES, including a spinal epidural hematoma or herniated disk.

Spinal epidural hematoma occurs when a collection of blood compresses the spinal cord and nerve roots, causing permanent neurologic damage. Symptoms may include back pain, weakness, numbness, difficulty walking, and loss of bowel or bladder control.

Between the vertebrae of your spine are cushion-like disks that make it possible to bend and move. A herniated disk occurs when the softer center of one of these disks pushes through its more rubbery exterior, often resulting in pain, numbness, and weakness. If incontinence is also present, this indicates a severe case which may require emergency surgery.

Other possible causes could include a spinal tumor, abscess, spinal cord injury, or kidney stone. Treating these conditions early could help you avoid developing Cauda Equina Syndrome.

Sometimes the two symptoms are unrelated.

It's also possible that your back pain and incontinence are caused by two unrelated conditions—but only a doctor can help you rule out causes that require immediate medical intervention. Go to the ER if you experience these symptoms at the same time.

Persistent incontinence is considered a serious enough symptom on its own that you should call a doctor if you experience it. "Though it occurs more often as people get older, urinary incontinence isn't an inevitable consequence of aging," explains the Mayo Clinic. "If urinary incontinence affects your daily activities, don't hesitate to see your doctor. For most people, simple lifestyle and dietary changes or medical care can treat symptoms of urinary incontinence."

Speak with your doctor to learn how you can take control if you've begun experiencing this symptom, and to rule out serious underlying conditions that could be causing it—especially if you also have back pain.