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.

Back pain is annoying—but it also may alert you to a serious problem.
When Back Pain May Be a Medical Emergency

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:

See When to Seek Medical Care for Low 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.

See Medications for Back Pain and Neck Pain

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.

See Lower Back Pain Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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.

See Types of Back Pain: Acute Pain, Chronic Pain, and Neuropathic 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.

See When Acute Pain Becomes Chronic Pain

In addition, constant pain that is slowly worsening is another time-related consideration that likely indicates your need to visit the doctor.

See Back Care for Lower Back Pain

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.

Watch: Causes of Lower Back Pain Video

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.

See Back Pain and Doctors: When To Call a Doctor

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.

See Specialists Who Treat Back Pain

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.

See Getting an Accurate Back Pain Diagnosis

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.

Learn more:

Causes of Lower Back Pain

Lower Back Pain Symptoms