Sometimes it starts with a twinge. Or maybe a pull. Often, it’s just the wrong turn of the hip that causes debilitating back pain. In most cases, back pain is not caused by serious conditions, but by common, day-to-day actions, yet it’s one of the most common medical complaints.

According to the Mayo Clinic, four out of five people in the United States will experience lower back pain at least once during their lives. It’s one of the most common reasons people miss work. In fact, according to the American Chiropractic Association, one half of all working Americans admit to having back pain symptoms each year.

In many cases, back pain will eventually subside, but it can often take several weeks for the issue to resolve. And, if it’s not too serious, you should feel some relief within the first 72 hours. So, how do you know when back pain requires medical treatment? Here are a few signals of more serious conditions.

Your pain doesn’t go away within three weeks. This could be considered “chronic” pain, a sign of a progressively worsening condition, which could require immediate medical attention.

Running fever along with back pain. Together, these two symptoms could be an indication of something more serious such as meningitis, which requires immediate treatment.

Pain that radiates down one or both legs, or causes weakness or numbness in one or both legs. This could be a sign of sciatica, a condition that usually results from a herniated disk, which puts pressure and irritation on nerves in the back.

Progressive weakness in the legs along with bladder and bowel problems. These could be symptoms of a serious condition called cauda equina syndrome, where the spinal canal narrows and compresses the nerve roots below the spinal cord. This is sometimes caused by trauma, herniated disk, or inflammatory or infections conditions. This condition requires immediate emergency care.

You recently suffered from a fall or blow to your back. Even if you walked away from the incident seemingly unhurt, you could deal with a variety of injuries, including fractures.

Worsening pain when you bend over or lift your legs. This could be a signal for disk problems, including bulging disks, herniated disks or degenerative disk diseases.

If you experience any of these signs or symptoms, it’s time to visit your doctor.  Listen to your body.  Oh, and if you need a good doctor, let us know.