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Sports-Related Pain - Back Injury Red Flags and Warning Signs

As a former Division I college hockey player and an avid exercise addict, I like nothing better than the burning therapeutic soreness that accompanies a great sweat. This soreness is a “good” type of pain. On the flip side, not all pain can be beloved. When you, the athlete, experiences significant pain beyond what I have described, medical attention might need to be considered.

We all know how much to push ourselves when training. Sometimes, however, being active catches up with us in the form of an acute injury. Most neck and low back pains are self-limited and will heal within a few days/weeks with proper conservative care: ice/heat, over the counter pain medications and anti-inflammatories, stretching, activity modification, etc.


However, there are several “red flags” that should prompt one to seek medical attention right away:

  • fever, chills, night sweats, loss of bowel/bladder function

  • numbness/tingling/pins and needles radiating down the arm/leg

  • pain that is not responding to any conservative measures and worsening


So, what to do if these “red flags” are not present, but pain persists beyond a week or two.

Hopefully, your pain will turn the corner before not too long. But if it doesn’t, you need a plan. You need an expert who can best likely determine the source of your pain so that if it lingers, something can be done to that pain to “fix it” and eliminate it.


Take for instance low back pain. Telling someone that your back hurts gives about as much information as telling them that your car does not start.

Low back pain is not a diagnosis. The issue may stem from muscles, ligaments/tendons/cartilage, bones, discs, and/or joints. A properly trained expert in pain management is equipped with the skill set to discern that source of your pain and the appropriate treatment.

Ask these questions at your consultation:

  • What do you think is causing my pain and why?

  • How long will we continue to be conservative before something more aggressive needs to be done to prevent me from developing chronic pain?

  • What will be done to fix the pain issue if it does not get better soon?

  • What is your level of experience in treating my condition?

Bottom line, most pains get better with time and simple self-care. However, if this is not the case, you need to take action, seek out an expert who will make the proper diagnosis and treatment plan, and help you avoid the hellish disease of chronic pain and all that it entails.

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