Severe Lower Back Pain

Are you suffering from severe lower back pain? Though common, lower back pain can be taxing, with the potential to hold you back from your favorite activities. Understanding the treatments available to you (and the right time to seek treatment) may help you achieve lower back pain relief. 

Read on for a complete overview of severe lower back pain, including key signs that you should seek medical attention. 

Table of Contents

Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Back Pain

You shouldn’t ignore back pain because doing so can lead to worsened pain, permanent nerve damage, and disability. Ignoring back pain can also make your condition more difficult to treat in the future. 

Worsened Pain

Ignoring back pain can gradually exacerbate your symptoms, potentially leading to chronic pain. As you ignore your pain, without a doctor’s guidance, you may continue to strain the spinal nerves and discs. As a result, your pain could become debilitating. 

Conversely, if you seek treatment for back pain, your doctor will suggest activity modifications to prevent further strain on the spinal structures. They may also recommend treatments like physical therapy, which can improve your pain by restoring spinal alignment and strengthening the muscles that protect the spine. 

Permanent Nerve Damage

Damaged spinal nerves can often make a full recovery, with proper treatment. However, if you ignore spinal nerve pain, the damage can become irreparable. Permanent spinal nerve damage can have serious complications, including paralysis, incontinence, and sexual dysfunction. 

If you experience back pain with neurological symptoms like tingling, numbness, and weakness in the extremities, reach out to a physician for an evaluation as soon as possible. 


Untreated back pain can lead to long-term disability. If your condition progresses to a severe point, you may lose the ability to complete various day-to-day tasks and participate in activities you love. Some individuals with progressed spinal conditions struggle to walk without debilitating pain, even for short distances.

A professional treatment plan from a spine specialist can protect your mobility.  

Complex Treatment

When you do eventually seek treatment after ignoring back pain, it may be more difficult to treat. For example, tissue damage may have progressed to a condition that can’t be resolved with conservative methods. As a result, you may require surgery to resolve your back pain.

Often, back surgery can be avoided with early intervention. 

What Are Red Flags of Low Back Pain?

Red flags of low back pain include pain that persists for longer than six weeks, pain that radiates to the extremities, progressive neurological symptoms, bladder or bowel dysfunction, fever, and unexplained weight loss. 

Low Back Pain for Longer Than Six Weeks

Low back pain that lasts for longer than six weeks without improvement could point to a significant spinal condition, like osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, or spondylolisthesis. These conditions require ongoing medical care for pain relief. 

To prevent chronic low back pain before it occurs, contact your doctor for an evaluation if your pain doesn’t improve after around three weeks of at-home care. 

Radiating Back Pain

Lower back pain that radiates to the buttocks, legs, or feet points to spinal nerve compression. While compressed nerves are usually very treatable, they require prompt medical care to prevent worsened nerve damage. 

Radiating back pain can also be caused by organ problems, infections, and conditions that require emergency care, such as:

Progressive Neurological Symptoms

Severe or quickly progressing neurological symptoms, like tingling, numbness, muscle weakness, and a “pins and needles” sensation, are red flags. They indicate worsening nerve compression and, potentially, a serious neurological condition.

For example, cauda equina syndrome is a condition that causes numbness, weakness, and altered sensation due to compression of the cauda equina at the bottom of the spinal cord. It requires emergency medical care to prevent paralysis. 

Bladder or Bowel Dysfunction

Low back pain with bladder or bowel dysfunction can occur when the nerves that supply the bladder and bowel become compressed. This is also a symptom of cauda equina syndrome. If you experience changes to bladder or bowel function, seek emergency medical care to prevent lasting nerve damage. 

Fever and Unexplained Weight Loss

Low back pain with fever and unexplained weight loss requires immediate medical attention. This combination of symptoms can indicate a serious problem, like a spinal infection. Spinal infections are considered medical emergencies, as they can trigger spinal cord compression, spinal cord stroke, and other severe complications when left untreated. 

Other Low Back Pain Red Flags

Other red flags of low back pain that can indicate a severe spinal condition include:

  • Saddle anesthesia (lost sensation in the buttocks, inner surfaces of the thighs, and perineum) 
  • Abnormal gait
  • An underlying medical condition or general poor health
  • History of cancer

What Causes Excruciating Lower Back Pain?

Excruciating lower back pain can be caused by a back muscle spasm, back muscle tear, ruptured spinal disc, vertebral fracture, arthritis, spinal stenosis, or an impinged spinal nerve. 

Severe, excruciating lower back pain can be either acute or chronic. Acute lower back pain occurs suddenly and is often caused by a traumatic injury. Chronic lower back pain lasts for 12 weeks or longer and may be caused by a degenerative spinal condition. 

What Should I Do if My Lower Back Hurts Unbearably?

If your lower back hurts unbearably, you should contact your doctor immediately. If advised, visit the emergency room for immediate medical care. 

If you have to wait for an appointment with your doctor, try to manage your pain by:

  • Taking an over-the-counter pain medication, like an NSAID
  • Using heat and cold therapy
  • Keeping your spine in proper alignment and changing positions approximately every 30 minutes 
  • Resting 

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Common Diseases That Cause Lower Back Pain and Their Solutions

Common diseases that cause lower back pain include back muscle sprains and strains, herniated disc, osteoarthritis, and spinal stenosis. 

Back Muscle Sprains and Strains

Back muscle sprains and strains affect the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the spine. As very common and treatable injuries, sprains and strains affect most of us at some point in life. Symptoms include lower back pain, back stiffness, and muscle spasms. 

Solution: Most back muscle sprains and strains heal with rest and at-home care (heat/cold therapy, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, etc.). 

Herniated Disc

A herniated, ruptured, or slipped spinal disc can trigger lower back pain and neurological symptoms. With this spinal condition, one of the spinal discs becomes damaged, causing the jelly-like disc interior to protrude through a tear in the exterior. The damaged disc may impinge on nearby spinal nerves. 

Solution: Herniated discs may be treated with physical therapy, lifestyle adjustments, pain medications, and, in severe cases, surgery. 


Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that breaks down cartilage within the body’s joints. If it affects the spine’s facet joints, it can cause back pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. 

Solution: Osteoarthritis may be treated with physical therapy, lifestyle adjustments, pain medications, and, in severe cases, surgery. 

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal. It can result from genetics or age-related spinal changes. As the canal narrows, spinal structures can impinge on nearby nerves. 

Solution: Spinal stenosis can be treated with physical therapy, lifestyle adjustments, pain medications, and, in severe cases, surgery. 

Contact your doctor for an evaluation and diagnosis if you’re experiencing persistent lower back pain.