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Sure Signs You Need to See a Spine Specialist

Experts share seven signs that indicate you should see a spine specialist. 

It's common to think just back pain is associated with the spine, which it is, but that's not all. The bones in your spine protect the spinal cord, which sends electrical signals to your brain and other parts of your body, so spinal defects affect more than your back. "Certain issues associated with the spine (i.e. lumbar disc herniations or lumbar spine nerve compression) can cause referred pain or numbness (pins/needles sensation) into the buttocks or legs and can also cause leg weakness," Dr. Angelie Mascarinas, M.D., board certified Physiatrist with Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) tells us." She adds, "An unaddressed issue such as a large lumbar disc herniation can cause bowel/bladder issues if there is significant stenosis (narrowing in the spine) due to the disc herniation."  Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Leg or Foot Weakness or Numbness

Black male jogger in black sportswear and athletic shoes sitting on stair outdoors clutching his aching knee

Dr. Mascarinas explains to Eat This, Not That! Health,"Numbness or weakness in the leg or foot can indicate nerve compression in the lumbar spine. This can be assessed by determining where there is difficulty when performing a calf raise,  difficulty when walking on your heels, or if your foot drops or slaps the ground while walking."


Back or Leg Pain Lasting Longer Than 4-6 weeks

Mature man with gray hair having back pain while sitting on a couch at home

According to Dr. Mascarinas, "70% of cases of disc herniations in the general population have significant improvement of back and leg pain within 4-6 weeks. Therefore, if symptoms are not improving, a spine specialist can evaluate symptoms and perform a physical exam, obtain x-rays or more advanced imaging if indicated, and offer other treatments like medications, physical therapy, or injections that may help alleviate symptoms."


Unsteady on Feet with Frequent Falls


Dr. Mascarinas says, "Frequent falling or an unsteadiness on your feet could be a sign of spinal cord compression and is absolutely something to see a specialist about."


Unable to Walk Far Without Pain

mature woman dealing with knee pain on walk, arthritis

"If something as simple as walking a short distance causes pain, this could be a sign of something serious such as lumbar spinal stenosis, or a narrowing of the spinal canal in your lower back," Dr. Mascarinas states. 


Persistent Back Pain after a Minor Accident

woman experiencing back pain from slouching at desk

Dr. Mascarinas shares, "Persistent back pain following a seemingly minor incident could be a sign of a lumbar fracture, and an x-ray or MRI would be helpful to confirm diagnosis. Especially for those with a history of osteopenia or osteoporosis whose bones are more fragile, minor trauma can cause lumbar fractures."


Problems with Bowel or Bladder Functions

Woman with endometriosis abdominal pain

While this is a rare condition, knowing the signs is vital and it's important to see medical assistance immediately. Spine surgeon Sariah Khormaee, MD, PhD with HSS says, "If you have tingling or numbness in the groin area and lose the ability to go to the bathroom normally, this can be a sign of what is called cauda equina syndrome. This condition occurs when there is compression on the nerves at the base of the spinal column."


Agility Changes in Your Fingers and Hands

Senior man buttoning his shirt.

Dr. Khormaee explains, "The vertebrae in your upper back and neck connect your spinal column to your arms, hands and fingers. Changes in the area can affect your ability to carry out tasks that require the use of your hands. "People may notice that they have problems with buttons or zippers. Another thing that I sometimes hear from patients is that their handwriting has changed. Similar to the concerns seen in the lower spine, these symptoms can be caused by a number of different types of spinal problems. A spinal specialist can perform a physical exam and may offer scans such as X-rays, MRIs or CTs to determine the source of the problem."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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