When Back Pain is a Sign of Something Serious
Yoga teachers commonly find themselves looking after clients with back pain – this blog about the red flags of back pain is aimed to help to provide you with increased confidence in your care.
Back pain is common globally and in the UK has a lifetime chance of occurrence of 59 percent. Many people seek to self-manage their symptoms by taking up yoga and Pilates and there are many classes run by yoga teachers specifically for back pain.
The majority of back pain clears up quite quickly; however, back pain experienced together with any of the symptoms listed below may be an indication of a serious underlying cause and must be investigated urgently.
In the medical world, such symptoms are known as “red flags”. This is the term given to the signs and symptoms found in a patient’s history and clinical examination that warn their medical practitioner of the possibility of life-threatening disorders. Thus, the early evaluation of red flags is of paramount importance.
ALL red flags, whether highly diagnostic or not, general or specific, warn of the possibility of disabling and life-threatening disorders. Hence, they only need to be sufficiently suggestive to compel doctors to take the necessary steps to rule out a serious condition.
Whether you are suffering from back pain yourself, or a yoga teacher or therapist treating people with symptoms, the red flags associated with back pain are listed below for information only. After all, it is not unusual for a yoga teacher to be the first person a client with back pain confides in. Indeed, they may be the only one to have their student complain, “I don’t feel like I pee the same – somehow it doesn’t feel like my bladder empties properly.”
Don’t worry – and don’t panic. Your role is simply to urge your student to make an appointment to see their doctor as soon as possible. Make it a condition of the student being allowed to continue coming to class.
The Red Flags of Back Pain
- Sciatica in one or both legs
- Limitation of spinal movement in all directions
- Numbness in the saddle area (this is the area of skin that would be in contact with the saddle when sitting on a horse)
- Motor weakness in the lower limb. This might show up as a foot drop for example, and the individual would complain that they keep tripping up, especially going upstairs
- Associated onset of unsteady or otherwise altered walking pattern
- Difficulty initiating urination
- Loss of control of bladder or bowels
- Localised spinal tenderness
- No improvement after 4-6 weeks of conservative back treatment
- Fever and unexplained weight loss
- Severe back that persists even when lying down and that disturbs sleep
- Fever or a general feeling of being unwell
- Spinal surgery in the last year
- Recent bacterial infection
- History of osteoporosis
- Unexplained weight loss
- Recent trauma e.g. a fall
- (Previous) use of steroids
- (Previous) history of cancer
Article: Yoga treatment for chronic non-specific low back pain