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Man on sofa gripping lower back in pain

Most people have experienced back pain at some point in their lives. It's actually the leading cause of disability worldwide and the most common reason people call out of work. Back pain can come in many different forms, ranging from a dull ache that lasts only a few days to severe pain that lasts for weeks.

Depending on the intensity of the pain, there are many treatments you can try at home to help. But how do you know when it's time to stop home remedies and see a physician?

If any of the following applies to your back pain, then it's time to make an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible.

You've Been in Pain for Over a Week

Most back pain will subside after a few days, but if you've been experiencing pain for over a week, then it's time to call a doctor. Your doctor will perform any examinations or tests required to help get to the bottom of your pain before it could become a bigger problem. As is the case with many health conditions, prevention and addressing problems early is key.

Your Pain Extends to Other Body Parts

If you're experiencing severe back pain that is coupled with pain in other areas — such as shooting pain down your leg — then you should see a doctor. This could be a sign that you have sciatica, a form of pain that affects the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back and through the buttocks before branching down each leg. This condition usually results from a herniated disk. A doctor will be able to offer a variety of ways that you can relieve this pain.

You Have Numbness, Tingling or Weakness

Back pain accompanied by sensations of numbness, tingling or weakness could be a sign of nerve irritation or damage. This is especially true if the pain persists after taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers. Nerve pain is serious and can result in permanent damage or disability if left untreated.

You Have Pain After an Accident

If you get into a car accident (even a minor one), or fall or experience any kind of injury that results in back pain, it's time to see a professional. You may have a more serious problem, like a fracture, that needs to be addressed.

Your Pain is Worse at Certain Times or in Certain Positions

If your back pain wakes you up in the middle of the night or appears when you're in certain positions, such as lying down, then this could be a sign of a more serious problem. It could be a sign of a more systematic problem such as an infection, fracture, severe nerve compression or even cancer.

You're Having Problems with Your Bowels or Urination

If your back pain is paired with a loss of control over your bowels or urination, then it's time to seek help immediately at a local emergency room. These symptoms point to cauda equina syndrome, where the nerves in the lower spine have become paralyzed. While rare, this syndrome can be permanently damaging to the nerves if left untreated. If you experience these symptoms, especially accompanied by numbness in the legs, then you may need surgery to decompress the nerves and preserve their overall function.

You Have Unexplained Weight Loss

If you experience sudden weight loss that can't be explained by diet and lifestyle changes, then you should always pay attention to what your body is telling you. This is especially true when the unexplained weight loss is accompanied by back pain. See your doctor to rule out the possibility of a more severe condition, such as an infection or tumor.

You're Running a Fever

The flu can definitely make you run a fever and achiness, including in your back. However, if the fever is unresponsive to standard OTC medications, you could have a serious infection that needs treatment immediately. If you go to a doctor and they find an infection, they may prescribe antibiotics and a few days rest.

Ready to Address Your Back Pain?

The University of Maryland Spine Network can help you put your pain behind you. With convenient locations throughout the state, the UM Spine Network is home to the region's leading spine surgeons and specialists that can help you identify the source of your pain and put an end to it for good.

Put an end to your back pain. Find a spine specialist near you.