You may be used to a little stiffness in your back, but when is that soreness indicative of a deeper, more serious issue?

“The biggest problem with back pain is when it becomes chronic, and it’s a lot harder to treat at that point,” Dr. Bill Lauretti, an associate professor at New York Chiropractic College and the media spokesman for the American Chiropractic Association, told Fox News. Chiropractors focus specifically on restoring normal function to patients, he explained, as opposed to trying to numb existing problems with painkillers.

So when should you seek the help of a chiropractor? Lauretti told Fox News about a handful of key warning signs:

1. Pain radiating down the back of your legs
If you have this type of pain, called sciatica, see a professional early on, Lauretti said. While he noted most cases of lower back pain tend to resolve themselves within a week, once pain starts going down the leg, it suggests that nerves are being irritated.

2. Weakness or numbness in your feet or legs
Similarly, weakness or numbness in your legs could indicate that the nerves there are not only being irritated, but that they’re being damaged, Lauretti said. That damage may be in the spinal cord itself: For instance, a slipped disc could be pushing on the spinal cord with enough pressure to kill some of the nerves, or a tumor could be growing in the spinal cord.

3. Loss of control of your bowel or bladder
Loss of control of bowel movements, or incontinence, could be a sign of nerve damage in the spine. This could even lead to permanent damage, Lauretti noted.

4. Deep, boring pain at night
If your back pain is worse at night, and feels more like a deep, boring pain, it could be due to something serious — even a tumor, Lauretti said. Instead of putting yourself on bedrest or taking painkillers — two of the worst things you can do if you have back pain, Lauretti said — make an appointment with a professional to get to the root of the problem.

5. Difficulty walking more than a block
If you have difficulty walking more than a block, and especially if the pain gets better when you lean forward while walking — you may have spinal stenosis, which is caused by wear and tear of joints around the spinal cord, leading to the growth of bone spurs that push into and squeeze the spinal cord itself.


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