Is Your Back Injury Serious? Ten Signs to Look Out For

How do you know if your back injury is serious? What are the signs that your back pain needs medical attention? Here at Oakland Spine in North Jersey, we help patients from New Jersey and New York City who suffer from chronic back pain everyday. Many patients miss important signs that their back pain is serious and this can lead to further injury or worse.

To prevent this from happening, it’s important to know the signs to look out for of serious back injury or conditions. Learn the ways to differentiate chronic back pain from something more acute or serious. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical treatment or visit an emergency room.

Sharp Shooting Back Pain

Chronic back pain usually feels like a dull ache. If your back pain instead feels like a lightning bolt hitting your spine (or some other intense, spot-specific pain) this could be a sign of a tear in a muscle. It may also indicate a problem with an internal organ, which makes it something you’ll want a healthcare professional to check out.

Radiating back pain

If you notice a moving type of back pain, this could be a cause for concern. For instance, a shooting pain down into the legs could be a symptom of nerve damage or compression.

Weakness in the legs

If you’re experiencing a gradual weakening of the limbs, it’s not something to ignore. Weakness in the legs could be a sign of a spinal condition, such as sciatica or spinal stenosis. But, it’s important to not ignore any sudden onset of weakness in the legs or arms, as this could be a symptom of a stroke which requires immediate emergency room attention. Any type of sudden paralysis should also be quickly looked at by a doctor.

Bathroom Troubles

Severe back issues can sometimes cause issues with the control of bowel and bladder function. If your back pain is coupled with incontinence it could mean there’s serious nerve compression occurring in your spine. But this could also be a sign of a life-threatening infection, such as meningitis. That’s why this symptom is not to be ignored. Symptoms such as the inability to urinate or have a bowel movement also need to be quickly examined by a doctor.

Numbness in the buttocks

Experiencing the feeling of “pins and needles” in the buttock region, in your glutes or throughout your groin, might at first glance seem like nothing too concerning. However, this sensation, often called “saddle anesthesia” could be a sign of a pressing medical emergency. Cauda equina syndrome results in spinal nerve damage, which manifests as a numbing feeling in areas such as the limbs, hands and feet. To minimize permanent damage, this condition typically requires immediate medical care and decompression spinal surgery.


Of course fever can occur for a number of reasons, from fighting off a cold to a reaction to medication or to a vaccine. However, if you have sudden back pain that’s accompanied by a high body temperature, this is an immediate medical concern. It’s better to be on the safe side and head to an urgent care clinic or emergency room to ensure you are not suffering from meningitis, which is a bacterial infection of the spinal fluid that can be life-threatening.

Difficulty breathing

As a general rule of thumb, any time you experience shortness of breath or feel a difficulty in breathing, you shouldn’t hesitate to make a trip to the emergency room. This is even more urgent if you are experiencing back pain along with shortness of breath. A matter of minutes could mean all the difference, so it’s better to not hesitate and err on the side of caution.

Pain paired with unexplained weight loss

Unexplained weight loss is always a cause for concern. But if it’s experienced in addition to back pain, that’s something to definitely share with your doctor. There are some conditions that can be life-threatening if left untreated.

Pain lasting longer than a few weeks

The good news is that many types of back injuries will heal over time within a few weeks. However, sometimes back pain doesn’t go away. If this is the case, and your back doesn’t seem to be healing properly, it’s a good idea to contact your healthcare provider.

Back pain shouldn’t be overlooked if you notice the pain has come on little by little. This is the opposite sensation from when you injure or tweak your back. If back pain also comes on very suddenly for no apparent reason, that’s also a reason to seek medical care. Finally, if your back pain isn’t getting any better, that’s a sure sign you should seek help.

Here to Help in 4 North Jersey Locations

At Oakland Spine we treat all levels of back pain and spine issues. Even if your back pain isn’t serious and doesn’t require emergency care, chronic discomfort can still cause intense suffering and disrupt your life. At Oakland Spine our Butler Spine Program treats a variety of back issues, such as herniated discs, stenosis, sciatica and spinal degeneration. With highly-trained doctors of chiropractic medicine and physical therapists, with four locations in Oakland, Wayne, Fair Lawn, and Closter, we’re here to help make chronic back pain a thing of the past for patients.