Spine problems can be sneaky – they don’t always show up as discomfort in your back. They’re the kind of symptoms you’re tempted to ignore at first. Don’t be too dismissive, especially if the discomfort persists or worsens. Pain is the body’s way of saying that something has gone awry. Spine surgeon James Rice, MD, who is on the medical staff at Baptist Health Richmond, says spine problems don’t always show up in your back. Look out for signs in these areas, too:
- Your hands, arm and neck. “The same symptoms occurring in your extremities may be a sign that there is an issue with the cervical spine,” the portion of your spinal column in your neck , Dr. Rice said. If experience sudden or unrelenting pain in your neck, or if using your arms and hands is more challenging than it once was, it may be spine-related.
- Your legs. “If someone is having radiating pain down the leg – a burning or ‘electric’ type of pain – numbness or tingling, it may be an indication that there is an issue with his or her lumbar spine,” the part of the spine that supports of your torso, Dr. Rice said. Pain there is most often caused by muscle strains. But other conditions can be to blame, including degenerative disk disease, a herniated disk and osteoarthritis.
- Red flags. Most urgent and concerning symptoms include weakness in the extremities, such as “foot drop,” when you can’t lift the front part of your foot, as well as difficulty with arm strength, and bowel or bladder incontinence. “The cause of these issues may be a herniated disk, osteophyte, which is a bone spur or stenosis,” when open spaces in the spine narrow.
- The Doc’s Rx. Though having an issue with your spine sounds serious, sometimes, treatment may simply be rest and relaxation until your back can heal. Dr. Rice says other treatments include at-home exercises, physical therapy, chiropractic care, medication – such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids or muscle relaxers – or an injectable medication. If your back pain persists, see your doctor.