Lower back pain is the most common reason stated for work-related absences. This type of pain will often have pronounced impact on overall performance and motivation. But because an achy back caused by occupational factors can often be resolved with a little rest, we tend to brush it off as a trivial problem.
But did you know that some cases of backache might require much more than a rest day? Those that come hand in hand with other symptoms of illness can be indicative of something far worse than just a typical case of a bad back. For instance, a fever coupled with back pain can spell a world’s worth of different conditions. Some of these might be easily remedied with medication and rest. Others could lead to potentially life-threatening complications in the long run.
If you’ve been having bouts of lower back pain that comes hand in hand with heightened body temperature, it might be time to act. Read on through to find out just what these symptoms might meanso you can get a better idea of what might be causing your case.
Understanding Pain and Pyrexia
Pain and pyrexia are some of the most common symptoms of a variety of conditions. One of their main functions is to simply alert the individual that there is an on-going threat to their overall health and wellness. That’s why you’ll often notice that both pain and heightened body temperature occur at the onset of illness, signaling the beginning of the problem.
Commonly, a fever occurs in the presence of an infection. Because some forms of bacteria can’t survive high temperatures, our bodies bump up the heat to kill of what colonies of bacteria that it can.
A run-of-the-mill fever progresses through three phases. The first phase – called the prodromal phase – is characterized by increased temperature, listlessness, and general body malaise.
In some cases, individuals might interpret malaise to be pain, with localization over the area of the lower back. As the fever dies down and the individual stabilizes, this pain should also resolve itself. In this case, the fever itself was the cause of back pain. Often, this is what individuals come to know as the flu – a self-limiting illness.
There are some instances however when back pain might become the primary cause. Muskuloskeletal issues concerning the structures of the lower back can generate a fever response, especially if the pain has been allowed to progress without resolve.
That’s why individuals who slouch over computer screens for hours a day might feel marked body pain which then ultimately results to a feverish state. The basic explanation here is that stress can dampen the immune response. Because our bodies have normal bacterial flora in certain areas, these can propagate in times when an individual’s immunity is lowered. So any issues that cause back pain, when unaddressed, can indirectly cause a fever.
While these instances of lower back pain and fever might resolve on their own, some cases could require far more than just antibiotics and bed rest. So when exactly should you be more concerned?
When is it Time to Visit the Doctor?
According to statistics, only a small fraction of individuals will seek medical attention immediately after they experience symptoms of illness. Especially when they believe that their symptoms aren’t indicative of anything serious. Unfortunately, both lower back pain and fever are considered low urgency symptoms, so not everyone will visit a doctor to get a diagnosis.
While it might be alright to try to manage these two problems from the comfort of home, there are indicators you need to look out for to help you determine when the symptoms become more than you might be able to treat:
- Persistent, increasing lower back pain that doesn’t resolve with over the counter pain medications.
- Numbness, especially in the lower extremities.
- Radiating pain that emanates from the lower back towards the legs and feet.
- Decreased ability or inability to move the legs.
- Recurrent fever that subsides and returns several times in a day.
- Loss of bowel and bladder control.
Depending on your particular situation, there are a number of possible diagnoses a doctor might provide. There are a broad range of conditions that list fevers and back pain as their characterizing symptoms, however there are others that are more likely to develop than others.
Visit any medical practitioner with a complaint of persistent lower back pain and fever, and the first thing that will come to their mind will be a kidney infection. Pyelonephritis is one of the most common reason for the presence of both of these symptoms, second only to influenza.
A kidney infection commonly occurs as the result of an unresolved urinary tract infection. When UTI goes unaddressed, the bacteria that cause it can travel through the ureter and infect the kidneys. Early signs of infection include an increased body temperature and back pain.
The fever occurs as the body’s response to the growing bacterial threat. By increasing temperature, our system can eliminate a portion of the colonies infecting our kidneys. Of course, because our bodies naturally have normal bacterial flora, killing off the colonies in portions can only suppress the illness for a while as bacteria present in our system helps propagate the infection.
The back pain is the result of the kidneys themselves. Inflicted with infection, the organs become painful and sore, thus causing these sensations to radiate towards the back. So while the location of the pain and discomfort might be localized to the lower back, the musculoskeletal structures in the area are not responsible for the pain.
If unaddressed, a kidney infection can further spread to neighboring structures and cause even greater risks. Seeking professional help and pharmacotherapy at the first signs of pyelonephritis can help prevent further complications.
An infection of the spinal column, classified as osteomyelitis, is another possible cause for a combination of lower back pain and a fever. There are several potential causes for an infection of the spinal column, however the most probable are post-surgical infections and septicemia.
According to statistics, the chances of contracting an infection of the spine post-op aren’t high. In most cases, a prompt dose of antibiotics should be more than enough to resolve the infection. However, more pronounced infections could require the reopening of the suture to remove infected tissue and wash out the wound.
Septicemia, on the other hand, happens as the result of a completely different mechanism. This infection of the blood can travel to different parts of the body and spread bacteria to otherwise healthy tissue. For instance, an individual who undergoes a colonoscopy, cystoscopy, or any other procedure that requires the introduction of a foreign object into the body, could incur an infection not long after.
When this infection enters the blood stream, then it’s only a matter of time before the spine and its surrounding structures are infected as well. Of course, the presenting factors of a case of spinal infection secondary to septicemia would be fever and lower back pain.
Any fever that occurs after any sort of medical procedure or surgery should be taken as a warning sign, as indicated by the 5 W’s of post-operative fever. It should become even more urgent when there is the presence of pain.
Septic shock is a very real threat that’s considered a medical emergency. Once there’s widespread infection throughout the system, the body will go into shock after which death becomes a very real possibility. Seeking prompt medical care and attention prior to septicemia is the ideal solution to prevent the danger of sepsis.
Muscle Injury, Damage, and Death
Individuals who overwork the muscles can be particularly prone to a condition called rhabdomyolysis. This is characterized by the death of muscle tissue usually as the result of strenuous activity.
The muscles of the back are some of the most utilized muscles in the body. Simple activities like standing, sitting, walking, and other, seemingly mundane postural actions all require the engagement of the lower back muscles. Combine this with demanding activities like heavy lifting and muscle injury may not be too far behind.
Individuals who are most at risk of this type of overworking the back muscles are athletes and blue collar workers. Being exposed to such challenging activities on a regular basis, these individuals often push their muscles to the limit, which can compound damage over time.
Once the muscles have reached their breaking point, the tissues die and breakdown, thus causing the release of toxins throughout the system. In many cases, the toxins enter the blood, which then puts an excessive burden on the kidneys. Later stage rhabdomyolysis is characterized by kidney damage, and further along the line, kidney failure.
Resolving rhabdomyolysis depends on the extent of damage. In minor cases, the condition can be addressed with rest and fluid intake to help normalize the blood chemistry. Severe cases, however, could lead to kidney damage which requires special medication and treatment to be administered in a controlled hospital environment.
Direct trauma to the back muscles can also be a reason for back pain and fever. When the muscles are exposed to direct externally generated trauma, the muscles can die and become a hotbed for bacterial infection. This is what’s called pyomyositis. It’s because of this abundance of infectious material that the affected area may seem swollen.
The lower back might also be tender, causing pronounced pain with nothing more than a light touch. Other than that, it’s likely that the affected region might be warmer than the rest of the individual as blood rushes to the area to help heal the tissues involved. However, it’s also very likely that the individual might develop a full-blown fever. This is the natural bodily response to an increase in bacterial flora.
Addressing pyomyositis might not be as simple as rhabdomyolysis. Doctors may have to open the affected area and clean out the necrotic and infected material. In some cases, individuals may even have to undergo physical therapy to regain strength and range of motion, depending on the extent of the damage to the muscles.
Lower back pain and fever are often some of the most underestimated symptoms. However, these two simple occurrences shed a tremendous amount of light on a person’s overall condition. By taking them as warning signs and taking action before they progress, you can effectively reduce the chances for further complications.
Remember – your body is constantly working for your optimal health. So take the time to listen to what it’s telling you and you can save yourself from a world’s worth of disease.