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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: July 2015

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