Not all back problems are created equal. One person may have been working on a home improvement project and injured her back while simultaneously bending and twisting. Another person may have developed back pain as a result of a vehicular collision. Another person may be experiencing back pain as a result of osteoporosis. Yet another person may have a serious illness which causes back pain as a related problem.
Back pain is a problem common to many types of injuries and illnesses. How can you tell the difference - in other words, how can you tell when back pain requires you to take action, such as seeing your chiropractor? A reasonable approach is to use a 48-hour guideline. Your body usually has a powerful ability to heal itself. If your back pain hasn't gone away on its own within 48 hours, then seeking professional assistance is a very good plan.
However, some situations require immediate attention. For example, if you've had an accident, seeing your chiropractor right away is probably the right thing to do. In another scenario, if you begin to experience severe pain without an obvious cause, then seeing your chiropractor right away makes a great deal of sense. Like many things in life, having physical pain requires us to use good judgment. The 48-hour rule-of-thumb applies to most situations, but if you've had an accident or are having an unusual problem, see your chiropractor as soon as possible, today if necessary.
When a person has back pain, it's very important to make sure there are no related problems. Most of the time there aren't, but no one wants to be the exception and it's always better to be safe than sorry. Making your own diagnosis is never a good idea. "Oh, that's been bothering me for months," some people will say. "It's just back pain." Of course, such an approach to one's health violates the 48-hour rule. If the problem really wasn't anything much, it would have gone away within a few days. Something else is going on, and usually the longer a physical problem is left untreated the more difficult it is to deal with. The old expression, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is as true today as it was 100 years ago.
Your chiropractor is an expert in back pain. They know that physical pain happens for a reason.1,2 Their job is to discover that reason, using the tools of history taking, physical examination, biomechanical analysis, and special tests, if necessary, such as x-rays and other imaging methods. Most of the time, the underlying problem is mechanical in nature, involving the spinal joints and associated soft tissues, including the ligaments, muscles, and tendons. Such mechanical problems cause the vast majority of cases of back pain, and are directly addressed by chiropractic care.3 In unusual circumstances, your chiropractor will refer you to another specialist. The important approach in all situations is to seek appropriate care. Your chiropractor's office is the right place to start.
1Bakker EW, et al: Spinal mechanical load as a risk factor for low back pain: a systematic review of prospective cohort studies. Spine 34(8):E281-E293, 2009
2Shambrook J, et al: Clinical presentation of low back pain and association with risk factors according to findings on magnetic resonance imaging. Pain 157(7):1659-1665, 2011
3Wilder DG, et al: Effect of spinal manipulation on sensorimotor functions in back pain patients: study protocol for a randomised controlled trial. Trials 12:161, 2011