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Q. Are there any serious signs or conditions I should know about?
A. Watch for pain or numbness that spreads into your arms or legs. This can be a sign that severe irritation in your spine is causing your symptoms to radiate outward. Problems with your central nervous system (your brain and spinal cord) can also cause feelings of numbness. These symptoms are often felt in more than one limb, such as your arm and leg on one side or both arms or legs.
A second possibly serious condition is called cauda (caw-da) equina (e-kwine-a) syndrome. This can happen when a herniated disc in your low back gets so big that it fills your entire spinal canal. The immediate pressure on the nerves in your spine may cause paralysis of the muscles that control your bowels and bladder. People with back pain who lose control over their bowels or bladder should contact their doctor immediately. This requires immediate medical attention because if the pressure is not relieved right away, the nerves that go to your bowels and bladder can be permanently damaged.
Pain or symptoms that start for no apparent reason may also be a "red flag." Pain can begin from many sources. Pain originating from your kidneys can spread pain into your mid to low back. A problem with your gall bladder can radiate pain into your mid back and right arm. Other causes of pain that is felt around your spine can include aortic (ay-or-tick) aneurysm (an-your-is-im) and stomach ulcers. So when spine pain or symptoms start without obvious injury or trauma, it can be a signal that other problems may be involved.
Your doctor may want to do tests and ask you questions to rule out other causes of your spine pain. Blood tests can be done to check for infection or arthritis. X-rays can rule out tumors or cancer. Your doctor may want to know whether you have had any recent weight loss or weight gain, whether your pain wakes you up at night, and whether your pain changes as you move or rest. Ruling out possibly serious conditions for your spine pain can increase your confidence and help you in the healing process.