While not common, certain back pain symptoms are a sign of a medical emergency that may become life threatening or result in disability without prompt attention from an experienced physician. Patients who experience any of the following symptoms should seek medical attention as quickly as possible:
- Progressive leg weakness and/or loss of bowel or bladder control
- Unexplained weight loss accompanied by pain and neurological impairment
- Acute, severe stomach pain along with low back pain such that the patient cannot stand straight
- Fever with increased pain which does not respond to common fever reducers
Adult patients who have weighed the same for months and for no apparent reason lose weight rapidly (e.g. more than 5 pounds a week for a couple of weeks) or lose their appetite for even favorite foods should consult with their doctor. Rapid, unexplained weight loss can indicate a serious medical condition, such as cancer.
Low back pain from a spine condition generally is localized in the back or extremities affected by nerves aligned with spine segments. Rarely does low back pain migrate to the abdomen. However, abdominal disorders can often extend to the low back and be experienced as acute back pain in the lower back.
Acute (meaning quick onset) lower back pain that does not follow an obvious trauma, or movement associated with the onset of pain, can be a symptom of an enlargement of the aorta (large artery) in the abdomen, called an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
This condition becomes a serious medical emergency if the blood vessel ruptures or internal bleeding occurs.
Fever (defined as a sustained temperature of more than 101° in adults) can indicate an infection. In the spine an infection can arise gradually if the immune system has been weakened, or it can occur following surgery.
Although relatively rare, spinal infections can give rise to an epidural abscess (a pus-filled cavity in the epidural space) that can press on the nerve structures in the cervical spine (neck), thoracic spine (upper back) or lumbar spine. This pressure on the nerves can impair gross motor function and may result in paraplegia or quadriplegia, depending upon where the compression is.
Most infections can be treated successfully with antibiotics if brought to the attention of a physician.
Source: www.spine-health.com; Ari Ben-Yishay, MD.