In most episodes of low back pain, a specific underlying cause is not identified or even looked for, with the pain believed to be due to mechanical problems such as muscle or joint strain.[1][4] If the pain does not go away with conservative treatment or if it is accompanied by "red flags" such as unexplained weight loss, fever, or significant problems with feeling or movement, further testing may be needed to look for a serious underlying problem.[5] In most cases, imaging tools such as X-ray computed tomography are not useful and carry their own risks.[9][10] Despite this, the use of imaging in low back pain has increased.[11] Some low back pain is caused by damaged intervertebral discs, and the straight leg raise test is useful to identify this cause.[5] In those with chronic pain, the pain processing system may malfunction, causing large amounts of pain in response to non-serious events.[12]
For example, your quadriceps muscles are a group of four that are located at the front of the thigh; one of the group members, the rectus femoris flexes the hip, which brings your lower extremity (thigh, lower leg, and foot) forward, in front of you. On the other hand, your hamstring muscles are located at the back of the thigh. When they contract, they extend the lower extremity, bringing it behind you.
Antidepressants may be effective for treating chronic pain associated with symptoms of depression, but they have a risk of side effects.[13] Although the antiseizure drugs gabapentin, pregabalin, and topiramate are sometimes used for chronic low back pain evidence does not support a benefit.[79] Systemic oral steroids have not been shown to be useful in low back pain.[1][13] Facet joint injections and steroid injections into the discs have not been found to be effective in those with persistent, non-radiating pain; however, they may be considered for those with persistent sciatic pain.[80] Epidural corticosteroid injections provide a slight and questionable short-term improvement in those with sciatica but are of no long term benefit.[81] There are also concerns of potential side effects.[82]
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Some of these red flags are much less red than others, especially depending on the circumstances. For instance, “weight loss” is common and often the sign of successful diet! (Well, at least temporarily successful, anyway. 😃) Obviously, if you know of a harmless reason why you have a red flag symptom, it isn’t really a red flag (duh!). But every single actual red flag — in combination with severe low back pain that’s been going on for several weeks — is definitely a good reason to get yourself checked out.
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