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Is my back pain serious?

Back pain is most commonly felt as soreness, tension or stiffness in the lower back (the area between the bottom of the ribs and the top of the legs). It can also be felt in the neck, shoulders, buttocks and thighs.

There are several warning signs - known as symptoms - that may indicate your back pain is caused by a more serious condition.

Should I see a doctor?

If you have any of the following symptoms in addition to your back pain, see your doctor straight away. You may need immediate medical help.

  • a fever of 38ºC or above
  • unexplained weight loss
  • swelling of the back
  • constant back pain that does not ease after lying down
  • pain in your chest or high up in your back
  • pain down your legs and below the knees
  • pain caused by a recent trauma or injury to your back
  • loss of bladder control
  • inability to pass urine
  • loss of bowel control
  • numbness (loss of feeling, or a tingling sensation) around your genitals, buttocks or anal area
  • pain that is worse at night.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your back pain, why not use healthdirect's online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self-care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: October 2017

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

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Low back pain

A significant loss of wellbeing and a reduced quality of life affects those experiencing persistent low back pain.

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Lower Back Pain | myVMC

Lower back pain occurs in the area known as the of the lumbar spine. It may be acute or chronic depending whether it persists for longer than three months.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Low Back Pain (Acute)

This article tells you about acute low back pain and how it is diagnosed, including what imaging tests you may need to have.

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Multidisciplinary treatment for back pain

Is treatment involving a team of therapists from several different clinical professions helpful for people with long-term back pain?

Read more on Cochrane (Australasian Centre) website

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This sheet has been written for people with back pain. It provides general information about back pain and what can be done to help it. It also tells you where to find further information. This sheet is not meant for people with back pain from osteoporosis.

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Lower back pain (backache) information video | myVMC

Lower back pain is the most common type of back pain or backache. Simple pain relief or treatment includes a back rub and pain killers.

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Simple advice on managing low back pain or sciatica to assist your recovery

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Pilates for Back Pain | myVMC

Pilates and Back Pain: Pilates is a particularly good exercise for many people with back pain as it is designed to strengthen the deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. Pilates has been found to reduce chronic back pain and the disability associated with back pain. Read on for more info on Pilates and Back pain.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Back pain - Better Health Channel

Back pain is common. Some people will develop back pain that is persistent (lasts more than three months). There are many things that you can do to live well with back pain.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Back pain - myDr.com.au

Most back problems can be prevented by proper use of the spine and keeping it in good shape.

Read more on myDr website

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