If you’re like most people, you don’t like going to the doctor’s. We get it—you’re busy with a dozen other things, and it simply doesn’t fit into your schedule.
But when it comes to taking care of your lower back, your busy schedule shouldn’t supersede your health. With this in mind, here are three things to consider when deciding whether to see a doctor for your lower back pain:
1. The severity of your pain
Typically, we associate a doctor’s visit with intense pain. But many episodes of severe lower back pain last only a few hours—and may not require professional medical care. Intense (and isolated) episodes of lower back pain can sometimes be treated with conservative measures like cold therapy and over-the-counter medications.
However, as a general rule, if you have severe pain that lasts longer than 24 hours you should seek medical attention. Likewise, consult with your doctor if you suffer multiple episodes of severe lower back pain over several days or weeks.
Every person is different, but one way to gauge the severity of your pain is the extent to which it interferes with your daily activities.
2. The duration of your lower back symptoms
When it comes to lower back pain, it is important to recognize that the severity of your pain is not the only factor to consider when deciding whether to visit the doctor. In many cases, you will also want to take into account the duration of your pain.
There are multiple points of view on this topic, with some experts suggesting that, as a general guideline, you should see a doctor if your mild to moderate lower back pain persists for more than 1 week. Others suggest 2 to 4 weeks as a benchmark.
In addition, constant pain that is slowly worsening is another time-related consideration that likely indicates your need to visit the doctor.
3. The cause of your lower back pain
Sometimes, you have no idea what may be causing your lower back pain. Other times, you can be almost certain what provoked your symptoms. And if your lower back pain is the result of an accident or trauma, such as a car crash, you should seek medical attention.
It is important to note that back pain that follows a serious trauma requires immediate medical attention—as it may be a symptom of a serious underlying medical issue.
The bottom line
The above considerations should only be understood as general guidelines, and they are not exhaustive.
Ultimately, when it comes to deciding whether to see a doctor for your lower back pain it is better to be safe than sorry. You do not want to put off visiting the doctor for too long, as this can make your condition worse.
And if you have any doubts or concerns you can always reach out to your doctor’s office with a quick phone call. Additionally, some insurance companies have 24-hour nurse hotlines available that may help you determine whether to see a doctor for your lower back pain.
It is important to reiterate that some episodes of lower back pain require immediate medical attention. As a general rule (and in addition to pain following a trauma), if your lower back pain is accompanied by abdominal pain, fever, and bowel and/or bladder incontinence you should seek immediate medical care.