Whether you have lower back that is piercing and intermittent or achy and constant, you are likely wondering if your symptoms are a cause for concern.

See Lower Back Pain Symptoms

If back pain symptoms persist after a few weeks, seeing a doctor to accurately diagnosis the cause of your back pain is a good first step. Read Lower Back Pain Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Each case of back pain is unique, but the information below can help you determine if your lower back pain is serious.

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What is “serious back pain”?

In this blog, when I say serious back pain, I mean back pain that requires a visit to a doctor.

See Should I See a Doctor for Back Pain?

The severity of your symptoms is not the only indicator as to whether your lower back pain is serious. For example, pain from a pulled lower back muscle can be intense, but it will typically subside after a few days of basic at-home care.

See Pulled Back Muscle and Lower Back Strain

In contrast, lumbar degenerative disc disease can cause a moderate, dull ache in the lower back—this kind of pain is not necessarily intense, but it may get worse over time without treatment. In these cases, a physician can recommend a long-term treatment plan.

See Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease Treatments

When lower back pain is serious

As a general rule, if your lower back pain does not subside within 1 to 2 weeks, you should visit your doctor. Odds are that your pain is not a sign of a medical emergency, but a doctor can provide you with an accurate diagnosis and recommend a treatment plan.

See Getting an Accurate Back Pain Diagnosis

A good treatment plan will address your symptoms as well as the underlying condition causing them. Conversely, a wrong diagnosis and treatments can sometimes make your back pain worse.

Following up with your doctor

After making treatment recommendations, a doctor will typically ask to see you again in 6 to 12 weeks. In the interim, if your chronic back pain symptoms do not improve or even get worse with treatment, you can contact your doctor’s office and ask about adjusting the treatment plan.

Chronic Pain As a Disease: Why Does It Still Hurt?

For example, if you have been diagnosed with chronic lower back pain caused by degenerative disc disease, you may be prescribed a muscle relaxant or advised to take an over-the-counter pain reliever. If you find the recommended medication causes side effects that you can’t tolerate, your doctor can recommend alternatives.

Medications for Back Pain and Neck Pain

Lower back pain that may be a medical emergency

If your lower back pain is accompanied by other troubling symptoms, it may require immediate medical attention. Seek immediate medical care if your lower back pain is experienced in tandem with any of the following symptoms:

  • Increasing weakness in your legs
  • Loss of bladder and/or bowel control
  • Severe stomach pain
  • High fever

When Back Pain May Be a Medical Emergency

This list is not exhaustive. When in doubt about your lower back pain, see your doctor. It is almost always worth your time to schedule an appointment—even if it is only for your peace of mind.

Learn more:

Types of Back Pain

When to Seek Medical Care for Low Back Pain