When to Go to the Emergency Room for Back Pain

When is it essential to head to the emergency room for back pain? Back pain is a widespread ailment that affects people of all ages and pain levels can range from mildly uncomfortable to debilitating. Deciphering whether your back pain requires immediate medical attention or can be managed with rest and home remedies can be challenging. In this article, we’ll walk you through the red flag symptoms and indicators that signal a trip to the emergency department might be in order, helping you make informed decisions about your medical care, back health, and well-being.

Potential Causes of Severe Back Pain

Severe back pain symptoms can have various causes, including medical emergencies, and it’s important to identify the underlying factors that might be the cause. Some common causes of severe back pain that require emergency care include:

Muscle Strain or Sprain

Overexertion, improperly lifting heavy objects, or sudden movements can strain or sprain the muscles and ligaments in the back, leading to severe pain.

Herniated Disc

This condition, also known as a slipped or ruptured disc, occurs when the cushion-like discs between the vertebrae in the spine bulge or rupture, pressing on nearby nerves and causing intense pain.

Spinal Stenosis

This is a narrowing of the spinal canal, which can put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves, causing severe back pain. It’s often related to aging and degenerative changes in the spine.

older man with lower back pain

Degenerative Disc Disease

As people age, the discs between their vertebrae can lose water content and height, leading to pain due to reduced cushioning and increased stress on surrounding structures. This is known as Degenerative Disc Disease.


Sciatic nerve pain occurs when the sciatic nerve becomes compressed or irritated, causing  pain to run from the lower back down through the legs 


An abnormal curvature of the spine can cause severe back pain, especially as the condition progresses or if the curvature is severe.


This condition involves the breakdown of cartilage that cushions the joints. When it affects the joints in the spine, it can lead to severe pain and reduced mobility.

Ankylosing Spondylitis

This is a type of inflammatory arthritis that primarily affects the spine, causing pain and stiffness. It can lead to the fusion of the vertebrae, resulting in limited mobility.

Kidney Stones

Kidney stones can sometimes cause severe pain that radiates to the lower back and abdomen.


Infections of the spine or surrounding tissues can lead to intense back pain. Conditions like spinal osteomyelitis or discitis are examples.


A broken vertebra, often caused by trauma such as a fall or car accident, can result in severe back pain, especially if the fracture compresses nerves or the spinal cord.

Cauda Equina Syndrome

This is a rare but serious condition where the nerve roots at the lower end of the spinal cord become compressed, leading to severe back pain along with other symptoms like loss of bladder or bowel control.


Cancerous or benign tumors that develop in or around the spine can cause severe pain as they press on nerves or other structures.

It’s important to note that this list of health conditions is not exhaustive, and there are other conditions that can cause severe back pain and require a visit to the emergency room. 

You may be wondering, “How do I know if my back pain is severe? When do I go to the emergency room for back pain?” 

Keep reading to learn more about the pain symptoms that indicate treating back pain may require more than a trip to urgent care or your primary care physician

doctor inspecting a man's back

How Do I Know if My Back Pain is Serious? 

Serious back pain often takes on one or more of the following characteristics or secondary symptoms. You may need prompt medical attention for your back pain if you experience: 

  • Intense and severe pain that doesn’t improve with rest or over-the-counter pain medications
  • Back pain that persists for more than a few weeks
  • Pain that radiates down your legs, or numbness and tingling in your legs or feet
  • Loss of the ability to control bowel movements or bladder functions along with back pain
  • Fever that accompanies back pain
  • Unexplained weight loss along with back pain
  • Back pain that is consistently worse when you’re at rest or wakes you up at night
  • Weakness in your legs or difficulty walking

Get Treated at Exceptional Emergency Center

In times of intense back pain, making the right choice for your health is paramount. If you’re faced with the warning signs discussed above, consider seeking help from Exceptional Emergency Center. 

Our experienced medical professionals are dedicated to providing immediate and comprehensive care, ensuring your concerns are addressed promptly and effectively. With state-of-the-art facilities and a commitment to patient well-being, Exceptional Emergency Center stands ready to assist you in your time of need. Don’t hesitate to prioritize your health—reach out to us for the elevated care you deserve when severe back pain strikes. Visit our website to find a location near you and learn more about our services!