Managing Your Middle Back Pain: Red Flags You Shouldn’t Ignore

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If you’re one of the many adults dealing with chronic middle back pain, you know just how much it can impact your daily life. From us here at Kaly, we understand how debilitating this pain can be, and we’re here to provide you with the knowledge and support you need to take control.

Today, we want to talk about some important “red flags” to keep an eye out for when it comes to middle back pain. Recognizing these red flags early is crucial for getting proper treatment and preventing long-term issues.

What Exactly Are “Red Flags” for Middle Back Pain?

Red flags are signs or symptoms that indicate your back pain could be due to a more serious medical condition requiring prompt attention. 

With middle back pain specifically, which involves the thoracic spine area, certain red flags warrant an urgent call to your doctor.

Here are some key red flags to watch for:

  • Numbness or tingling in the legs
  • Muscle weakness in the legs
  • Fever/chills
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Severe unimproved pain
  • History of cancer
  • Trauma such as a fall or car accident

Why Recognizing Red Flags Matters

It’s crucial not to ignore potential red flags associated with your middle back pain. Trying to simply push through severe pain or other worrying symptoms can end up making the problem much worse.

Catching these conditions early is important to prevent permanent damage and disability.

Getting prompt treatment for red-flag symptoms can help:

  • Avoid permanent nerve damage from compressed spinal nerves
  • Prevent infections from spreading deeper into spinal tissues
  • Improve outcomes for spinal fractures before severe deformity sets in
  • Increase treatment options for potential cancer caught early

Middle Back Pain Red Flags: What You Need to Know

Back pain is one of the most common reasons people visit their doctor. While most back pain improves with home treatment, there are some red flags you should watch for.

Red flags are signs or symptoms that suggest your back pain could be due to a serious medical condition requiring prompt medical attention. This is especially important with middle back pain, which encompasses the thoracic spine

What are middle back pain red flags?

Some red flags to watch out for with middle back pain include:

  • Fever or chills along with back pain – This could signal an infection of the spine or other tissues.
  • Unexplained weight loss along with middle back pain – Losing weight without trying can be a sign of cancer or other serious illness causing the back pain.
  • Neurological problems – Numbness, tingling, loss of bladder or bowel control, or weakness in the legs can occur from spinal cord compression.
  • History of cancer – People with a history of cancer that spreads to bone are at risk for cancer-related back pain.
  • Severe unimproved back pain – Back pain that does not start to get better after a few days of home treatment may indicate a more serious problem.
  • Trauma such as a car accident – Back pain that starts after trauma may be due to a vertebral fracture or other injury.
  • Immobility – Inability to move your legs or back can be a medical emergency requiring prompt evaluation.
  • Age over 50 or under 18 – While back pain can occur at any age, pain over age 50 raises concern for cancer or fracture while under 18 may indicate infection or other serious illness.
  • Drug use – People who inject drugs are at risk for spinal infections.
  • Pain at rest that worsens when lying down – This suggests a specific cause like cancer or infection rather than general back strain.

If you have middle back pain along with any of these red flags, see your doctor promptly to determine the cause and get proper treatment. Do not try to self-diagnose serious back pain.

Why does my back hurt in the middle?

Middle back pain can be caused by muscle strain, osteoarthritis, trauma, herniated discs, spinal stenosis, compression fractures, degenerative disc disease, cancer, infections, or inflammatory arthritis like ankylosing spondylitis. The most common causes are muscle tightness, wear and tear arthritis, and injury to the thoracic spine area leading to compression of nerves and spinal cord.

What are the red flags of thoracic back pain?

Red flags for thoracic back pain include weakness or numbness in legs, loss of bowel/bladder control, unexplained weight loss, fever, history of cancer, trauma, age over 50, steroid use, severe constant pain, worsening pain when lying down, and recent drug injection. These suggest potential serious causes like nerve compression, spinal infection, fracture, or cancer spread to the spine.

What are the lower back pain red flags?

Red flags for lower back pain include numbness/tingling in legs, muscle weakness, bowel/bladder changes, fever/chills, unexplained weight loss, back swelling or deformity, severe constant pain, trauma, history of cancer, steroid use, IV drug use, pain not relieved by rest, and unsteady gait or falls. These usually point to potential serious causes like nerve compression, fracture, infection, or cancer spread to the spine.

What are the upper back pain red flags?

Some of the red flags for upper back pain that you need to watch out for include shortness of breath, fever/chills, unexplained weight loss, loss of bowel/bladder control, abdominal pain, numbness/tingling in limbs, chest pain, history of cancer, grip weakness, trauma, age over 50, and severe pain unaffected by position changes. These may indicate lung issues, spinal infection, cancer spread, nerve compression, or fracture.

Why do I have severe middle right back pain?

Severe middle back pain concentrated on the right side can have several potential causes:

  • Pulled muscle – You may have strained a back muscle such as the trapezius or rhomboid major.
  • Herniated thoracic disc – A disc between the T1-T12 vertebrae could be bulging or ruptured, pressing on a nerve.
  • Osteoarthritis – Degenerative arthritis in the small facet joints can cause localized back pain.
  • Spinal fracture – An acute compression fracture of the thoracic spine may cause severe pain.
  • Spinal stenosis – Narrowing of the spinal canal puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.
  • Pancreatitis – Inflammation of the pancreas can refer pain to the right middle back.
  • Gallbladder problems – Biliary colic from gallstones may cause right middle back pain.

The First Step: Getting Checked Out

If you notice any of the red-flag symptoms above, don’t try to self-diagnose. Instead, book an appointment with your doctor right away to get an accurate diagnosis.

Based on a physical exam and potentially imaging tests, your doctor can determine if your middle back pain is musculoskeletal or if a more serious cause needs to be addressed.

Moving Forward with the Right Treatment

Here at Kaly, we’re always here to support you through evaluating those worrying middle back pain symptoms. 

With an accurate diagnosis, you can get started right away on the proper treatments to resolve red-flag causes, whether that involves medication, physical therapy, surgery, or other interventions.