Back Pain -The Red Flags


Most cases of back pain get better on their own and might be classified by a doctor as ‘non-specific’ or ‘simple’ back pain; this means no severe underlying pathology is likely.

A muscle or soft tissue injury will improve over six weeks. In these cases, most people only need to see a doctor if they need more powerful painkillers (analgesics) than one can buy over the counter. Instead, they may seek help from an osteopath, physiotherapist, or a movement specialist such as a clinical Pilates or yoga teacher.

Side note: seek medical advice if you’re worried about your back or struggling to cope with the pain.

Red Flags Signs and Symptoms

You might have heard the term red flags. These are the signs and symptoms of a potentially severe medical problem requiring urgent action. You should seek immediate medical advice if your back pain is accompanied by any of the following signs or symptoms:

  • A nerve problem other than pain: loss of sensation (especially of the area that would sit on a saddle, so-called saddle anaesthesia), loss of power, urinary or bowel incontinence.
  • You are also feeling unwell or feverish.
  • Your pain is in the upper part of the spine.
  • Pain is constant and getting worse.
  • You have debilitating back pain that is not reducing after 4–6 weeks.
  • You are younger than 20 or older than 55 and have back pain for the first time.
  • You also have significant unexplained weight loss.
  • You have back pain after a forceful or violent injury, e.g. road traffic accident, a fall, etc.
  • You have back pain with possible structural deformity of the spine.
  • You have a history of cancer.
  • You are taking Corticosteroids.
  • You are living with HIV/AIDS.

Call your GP or go to the Emergency Department (ED) if this occurs during the day. If this happens during the night or weekend, please go to ED.

Please note:

This post is for guidance only; it should not be regarded as a substitute for medical advice, examination or treatment given in person by an appropriately trained health professional


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