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How do you know when back pain might be an emergency?

We’ve all been there, you move in a weird way and suddenly your back starts to hurt a lot. It might be to the point that you can’t stand up or sit down and even to the point that breathing deep becomes almost impossible. All of these seem terrible, but what qualifies as an emergency? Back problems are exceedingly common among all demographics, so it’s important to know whether it’s the right time to call the emergency line for help. 

Common vs. serious back pain: 

Back pain is common among people who practice weight lifting or those who perform high impact sports. But the pain usually lasts less than a day and they can get back to their daily routine in about 72 hours. 

However, if the pain you experience presents signs you’ve never felt before that severely affect your life, then it’s probably serious and you should get it checked out. Generally speaking, back pain is not a life-threatening emergency where you need to call medics to send you for an emergency operation, but it can affect the quality of your life. 

6 signs your back pain is an emergency: 

Radiating pain in the body:

If you experience pain that does not affect the back only but affects the whole body, then it’s probably nerve compression that needs to be fixed. The back is surrounded by major nerves that can control your quad, hips, and feet, so if there is nerve compression, you will either experience radiating pain or numbness in those areas.


If you experience numbness in other parts of your body including your legs or hips, then it’s probably because your nerves got damaged. It might also be because your nerves got pinched, either way, it’s definitely a good call to ask for an emergency. 

Sharp pain:

If you have a sharp pain in your back instead of a general soreness that causes pain, then it’s likely because of a torn ligament or muscle around the back. If the sharp pain persists for more than a day, then it’s definitely an emergency. 

Inability to control bowel movements:

One of the reasons why you should definitely call an emergency is having incontinence. This can indicate a lot of issues such as sclerosis, cancer, or nerve damage that needs to be treated as soon as possible. 

Back pain becomes neck, shoulder, hip, and knee pain:

A common symptom of nerve damage is that the pain not only radiates to other body parts, but also caused pain and discomfort in the neck, shoulders, and hips. If you experience back pain that is also associated with neck pain or shoulder pain, then it’s likely because you have pressure on a nerve. 

Severe range of motion limitation:

If it has been more than a day and you have problems going to the bathroom, sitting, standing up, stretching, or moving at all, then it’s an indication that you are suffering from a disc herniation which needs to be treated urgently. 



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