Most people who report a sudden onset of back pain find that it alleviates within a relatively short period of time without significant medical intervention. An example of this could be someone performing a lift of a heavy object off of the ground and “throwing out” the lower back. A few days of rest and over the counter medication will resolve the pain in most of these cases.
We do however on occasion see patients with spinal pain that falls outside of the realm of typical causality. These cases can be difficult to diagnose and require the clinician to extensively interview the patient in order to get pertinent information that leads to the correct plan of action.
If you have stubborn spinal pain that you think might be atypical, there are a few simple questions that you can ask yourself that may point you in the right direction. If you answer “yes” to one or more of these questions, discuss the situation with your doctor.
1. Does your spinal pain stay the same (constant) no matter what position you put your body in? Pain that is muscular or joint involved tends to change with bodily position. For example, a typical lower back sprain/strain should generally feel better when the patient is lying on his or her back with the knees bent and feet flat on the horizontal surface. This position places the muscles at rest and lessens the pressure on the vertebrae. Pain that does not change with positioning may be suggestive of referral from other bodily organs.
2. Does your pain present itself at night? If pain is experienced at night over long periods of time, this should not be ignored and may also point to organ referral or malignancies.
3. Does your pain come in “waves”? Sudden waves of pain that increase and fade for no obvious reason may be a sign of stress to various structures that are not musculoskeletal in nature.
4. Does the pain lessen (or worsen) after eating? If the digestive tract is referring pain into your back, it is possible that food moving through your body can cause the symptoms to abruptly change as food can act as either a buffer or an irritant.