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Is My Pain Serious?

How do you know whether your pain needs to be evaluated by your chiropractor? This is the age-old question. The answer needs to be specific to your particular problem, rather than a one-size-fits all solution. But there are good guidelines that everyone can follow.
First, is your pain deep and boring (that is, does the pain feel like it's boring into you)? Deep and boring pain usually means something is seriously wrong. If you're woken up at night by this type of pain, a visit to your chiropractor or family physician is in order. Kidney stones and inflamed gallbladders are common causes for deep, boring pain that causes a person to awaken from sleep. Severe heartburn is in this category, too, and should be evaluated by your doctor.
But these types of problems are easy to categorize. You'll probably know, instinctively, that something is wrong. Musculoskeletal pain is rather more difficult to analyze. For example, you lean over in a twisting motion to grab the glass of water on your nightstand and you feel a sharp pain in your lower back. Next morning you have great difficulty getting out of bed. Your lower back is stiff and sore. What should you do?1,2
Your best course of action will be based on a self-assessment. If you're experiencing pain that radiates down your leg, or numbness or tingling sensations traveling down your leg, you should call your chiropractor's office and ask to be seen right away. Or, if you don't have any radiating pain, but sneezing or coughing does provoke a radiating sensation, take the same action. Similarly, the amount of pain you're having will determine what you do. If the pain is severe, see your chiropractor.
If none of these criteria are present, decision-making gets a bit murky. How you handle your problem will depend on your tolerance for pain. If you have low tolerance, make an appointment to see your chiropractor and get some expert treatment. If you have a higher pain threshold, you might still call for an appointment just to make sure that nothing is seriously wrong. Certainly, if you haven't improved at all after 48 hours, you need to see your chiropractor.
There is another important scenario. If you have a medical condition such as cancer, an endocrine disorder, or a systemic infection, a sudden occurrence of back pain needs immediate attention, regardless of how or why you think the pain occurred.3 This is not to be an alarmist, but rather the recommendation is based on precaution. If there is an existing problem, then new issues need to be looked at closely, just to be sure.
These guidelines provide a sound basis for decision-making, but please remember they are just that - guidelines. Each person needs to be comfortable with their own process. And, of course, it's always much better to be safe than sorry. Your chiropractor is always available to help you sort out these kinds of problems.
1Smart KM, et al: The discriminative validity of "nociceptive," "peripheral neuropathic," and "central sensitization" as mechanisms-based classifications of musculoskeletal pain. Clin J Pain 27(8):655-653, 2011
2Arendt-Nielsen L, Graven-Nielsen T: Translational musculoskeletal pain research. Clin Rheumatol 25(2):209-226, 2011
3Casazza BA: Diagnosis and treatment of acute low back pain. Am Fam Physician 85(4):343-350, 2012

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Testimonial

Reviews By Our Satisfied Patients

  • "Dr. Clarke is the best in the business!!! He is knowledgeable, thorough, passionate, kind compassionate, and always professional. He worked me into his already busy schedule, when I was having severe vertigo, caused by a pinched nerve in my neck. Dr. Clarke had me back to good in just a few short weeks."
    Jennifer D.
  • "I have had a hard time finding relief for my back pain, I've been a chronic 7 for almost 5-6 years now (on a pain scale from 1 -10). After about 6-7 visits and after 3-4 adjustments, I was amazed to realize I no longer had any back pain. Dr. Clarke was careful about doing adjustments until he saw all my x-rays, which I appreciated, as my mid-back was literally like a 'brick' and I didn't want to get hurt in the process. He is very gentle with the adjustments and I'm still somewhat speechless tha"
    Stefan H.
  • "I have been to Chiropractors for years but Dr. Clarke has done more for me in 2 months than the others have in several years! His attention to each individual to there needs is why I highly recommend him! The staff is very helpful and friendly!"
    Deanne E.
  • "I took my daughter for an initial consultation for chronic back pain. The staff was very friendly and Dr Clark was great at explaining things so that she understood what was happening"
    Jamie C.
  • "Can't praise Health 1st chiropractic enough! Dr Clarke and his wife Melissa are two of the nicest people you will ever meet! They always greet me with a genuine smile and make me feel welcome every time! Not only are they great people but the care I have received has been wonderful!"
    Becca R.
  • "Thank you for giving me my life back Dr. Clarke!"
    - Sharon H. / Marysville, WA