Everyone experiences back pain at some time in their life. In fact, it is in the top three complaints that people bring to the doctors office.
In most cases there is soft tissue inflammation, muscle spasms, or degenerative arthritis. These respond well to conservative treatments such as anti-inflammatory medicines, stretches, and osteopathic manipulative therapy. Physical modalities such as heat or cold, massage, and acupuncture are also helpful.
So when should you worry? Any loss of bowel or bladder control needs immediate attention. Surgery can release the pressure on the nerves and full function usually returns.
The longer the loss of bladder or bowel control continues without treatment, the higher the risk of permanent damage. This also includes weakness of any muscles in the legs or feet. Plus you can reduce the risks of falls and fractures.
Contrary to popular opinion, a thorough history, neurological and structural exams, plus basic X-rays of the spine can diagnose the problem 80-90% of the time. Expensive MRI studies certainly can be helpful looking at the cross-sections of the spine into the discs and spinal cord. But, in most cases...