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Back Pain & Osteoporosis
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Back Pain & Osteoporosis

2004 Edition

"Red Flag" Symptoms

Although back pain often is not serious, certain “red flag” symptoms signal the need for immediate medical attention. For this reason, doctors usually ask about the following symptoms to rule out such urgent problems as nerve damage (for example, cauda equina syndrome), an abdominal aortic aneurysm (a weak spot in the aorta, the body’s largest artery, that balloons outward and may put pressure on the lower back), cancer, or infection. If you experience any of the following symptoms, see your doctor immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial, since severe compression of the spinal cord (due to a herniated disk, for example) may cause permanent damage if left untreated.

Possible Signs of Nerve Damage

impaired bowel and bladder function (usually an inability to void)

muscle weakness in the arms, hands, legs, or feet

loss of sensation in the buttocks, groin, thighs, legs, or feet

Possible Signs of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

a palpable abdominal mass

a steady, deep, boring pain

tingling or numbness in the legs or feet

Possible Signs of Cancer or Infection

constant pain that is not relieved by changing position

pain that continues when resting, especially at night


unexplained weight loss

a history of cancer

age under 20 or over 50


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Back Pain & Osteoporosis

The Back Pain and Osteoporosis White Paper from The Johns Hopkins White Papers series is an annual, in-depth report written by Hopkins physicians.



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