According to the South African Society of Physiotherapy, a low 25–40% of people with backache seek help. This is concerning since 80% of people will experience back pain at some point in their lives.
Ignoring red flag symptoms is never a good idea, and if back pain is left unaddressed, it could lead to the following:
Extensive damage to nerves
Your nervous system is protected by your spine. When back pain occurs, the peripheral and spinal nerves send out pain waves. When these nerves are compressed for six weeks or longer, it can lead to permanent damage, explains spinal surgeon, Dr Louis J Nel from Spine Africa.
Generally, nerve damage in the peripheral nervous system can be resolved via anti-inflammatory control, such as medications, but it’s crucial that early diagnosis is made so that appropriate treatment can be provided, and permanent damage – which could potentially require surgery – avoided.
Damage to organs
Pain experienced in the mid-back and that is accompanied by fever or nausea could mean it’s a kidney infection, notes Reader’s Digest. If not dealt with, the infection could cause further permanent damage to the kidneys, and even a total kidney shutdown. Other serious medical conditions where backache could also be a symptom include certain types of cancers, a spinal infection and osteoarthritis, as stated in a previous Health24 article.
Decreased quality of life
According to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), it is estimated that one in every 10 adults is newly diagnosed with chronic pain each year around the world. Not only has chronic back pain been linked to a decreased quality of life, but major depression has been found to be four times greater in people suffering from chronic back pain than in the general population, and that the rate of depression increases in linearity with greater pain.
This is due to factors such as lack of sleep because of the pain, which ultimately leads to irritability during the day; difficulty of enjoyable activities; and an inability to work, causing financial stress, among others.
Permanent change in posture
If you suffer from everyday, dull back pain, you might find yourself slouching. This has the effect of providing temporary relief. However, when slouching too often, your spine – a very fragile part of your body – and muscles will become accustomed to this position. Apart from your back pain, it can also impact your organs by compressing them and lead to several other issues such as developing an increased risk of arthritis and respiratory complications.
It is important to see a doctor if your back pain persists for longer than a week and doesn’t subside with rest. Knowing the cause helps put your mind at ease, and if you find yourself scaling down on physical activity because of the pain, Dr Nel adds that the most common reasons for back pain do not need to limit one’s activities, and actually advises against it.
“Not treating the pain ultimately leads to an adjustment in lifestyle, which makes us age faster, and giving in to the urge to quit physical activity can also lead to the progression of bad posture and core strength over time.”
Fortunately, most back pain cases do not require the intervention of surgery, but do require medical assistance or a recovery plan.