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The Dangers of Self-Diagnosing Chronic Back Pain

Self-Diagnosing Chronic Back PainSelf-Diagnosing Chronic Back Pain photo by Liz West/ CC 2.0

Between easy internet searches and apps that aim to diagnose illness and injury in a matter of a few clicks, we are a culture of medical DIY. But if you’ve been experiencing chronic back pain, self-diagnosis can be dangerous.

“In this day and age of limited time with doctors coupled with ample opportunity to google anything, the temptation for people to reach their own conclusions about their illness is strong,” said Psychology Today. “When you self-diagnose, you are essentially assuming that you know the subtleties that diagnosis constitutes. This can be very dangerous, as people who assume that they can surmise what is going on with themselves may miss the nuances of diagnosis.”

And that’s just the beginning of the potential issues related to self-diagnosing your chronic back pain.

The chronic back pain probably won’t go away on its own

Unfortunately, many people fail to get proper treatment, or get it quickly, because they think they know best or don’t make seeing a doctor for chronic back pain a priority. While back pain is among the most common physical ailments, and low back pain the most common type of back pain, a majority of injuries do improve—with the right diagnosis and treatment.

“Although most patients with acute low back pain will improve with conservative treatment…a subset of patients will progress to chronic and sometimes disabling symptoms,” said the National Center for Biotechnology InformationU.S. National Library of Medicine (NCBI).

You may not be aware of the seriousness of an injury or condition

So you’ve had lower back pain and you’re also feeling weakness in your arms or legs. You may chalk this up to overexertion in the gym, but it could be something far more serious. Back pain that spreads to the leg could be a sign of sciatica. Weaknesses in your legs or arms, especially if it’s localized to one side, could also be a sign of stroke. Ignoring these symptoms could be devastating, which is why it’s so important to see a doctor instead of suffering with chronic back pain.

You may think it’s the same thing you’ve experienced before

If you’ve been living with chronic back pain or if you’ve had a back injury like a bulging disc or a pinched nerve in the past, you may think you can diagnosis your issue and treat it like you have before. But what if you’re wrong? Many symptoms of back pain can masquerade as something else, so it could be that the treatment you’re providing is all wrong, or could even be doing more harm. At the very least, delaying the appropriate treatment by having your doctor diagnose your chronic pain can put off healing and keep you in pain unnecessarily.

You don’t realize it can progress to something worse

Even worse, not getting treatment or not getting the right treatment can create dangerous conditions in which your injury can progress or further degenerate. Not getting prompt treatment for a herniated disk can be increasingly painful and potentially catastrophic.

“You may have had a herniated disk, where part of the spinal disk pushed onto nearby nerves. Normally, the disks provide space and cushion in your spine,” said the New York Times. “If these disks dry out and become thinner and more brittle, you can lose movement in the spine over time. “If the spaces between the spinal nerves and spinal cord become narrowed, this can lead to spinal stenosis. These problems are called degenerative joint or spine disease.”

The treatment (or lack of) could be doing you more harm in other ways

Maybe Ibuprofen is your go-to medicine for aches and pains. Doctors often prescribe it for pain relief, but what they know and you may not is that there are dangers involved in taking this medication over very long periods of time. Long-term use of Ibuprofen has been linked to an increased risk of heart problems, kidney damage, and can also “damage the lining of your stomach, putting you at risk for stomach ulcers and heartburn,” said Everyday Health. Can’t take Ibuprofin because of other medication you’re on? Relying on Tylenol for long-term pain control also has its risks. “A small group of studies raised questions about acetaminophen’s safety if used for a long time and at high doses to treat chronic pain,” said WebMD. “If you take too much, it can hurt your liver. In extreme cases, it can even cause liver failure. When you follow the instructions on those pill-bottle labels, it’s helpful and safe.”

If you don’t see a doctor, you don’t know what you need, so any treatment you provide yourself is just guesswork. Are you really willing to risk your future back health on a guess?

For more information about dealing with chronic back pain, contact DISC Spine Institute, experts in minimally invasive treatments, the most effective medical procedures to treat and eliminate chronic back pain. Minimally invasive procedures mean treating chronic back pain is easier than ever, with outpatient treatments and easier surgical treatments with small incisions and a quicker recovery time instead of a long hospital stay.

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