Back Pain Red Flags: Important Warnings & What to Do About Them

Back pain, and specifically low back pain, is one of the most common reasons a person seeks treatment or turns to physical therapy. Although pain has a very important role in our health – keeping us safe – it can often wear us down emotionally and cause feelings of sadness, fear, and even depression, especially when dealing with pain over a long period of time. Depending on severity, it can be somewhat or very limiting, preventing you from doing normal daily activities or enjoying your hobbies.

The good news is that back pain can often be treated very successfully by non-invasive options like physical therapy. Many people with back pain tend to reduce their activity level and sit or lie down more, hoping to stop the pain. The days of “bed rest” for back pain are gone! There’s definitely a middle ground between flipping tractor tires at the gym and staying in bed all day. Physical therapy can help you find that middle ground.

It’s sometimes hard to know when your backache is just soreness from a weekend workout or when it’s time to seek help. Even those with chronic pain may delay seeing a physical therapist, worried they won’t find any relief. So what are the red flags of back pain? Here’s what you should look for – and what to do next.


  • Radiating pain: “Electric” type pain or numbness and tingling that you feel in your legs/feet or rear end. Be sure and let your provider know if you’re having this symptom since it can help with a diagnosis. Example: sciatica is a back condition that can cause radiating pain down the back of the legs.

  • Pain at rest: If you overdid it and are dealing with back pain, and your back hurts even when you’re resting, it’s time to schedule an evaluation.

  • Disruptive pain: If you’ve had to change how you walk, work, sleep, or play because of back pain, seeing a movement specialist can make a huge difference.

  • Foot drop/dragging: If you notice your foot is dragging or you’re having to think about lifting your foot higher when you walk, this can be due to issues with nerves in your back. Visiting a physical therapist can help identify and develop a treatment plan.

  • Long-lasting pain: If your pain has lasted for several months, it’s classified as chronic. Different types of back pain can result in chronic pain. Long-lasting pain can still be improved by seeking care. Physical therapy is an ideal treatment for many different types of back pain, including chronic back pain.


Some red flags can require faster medical care. If you experience the following symptoms, please seek immediate care:

  • Loss of bladder/bowel control: If you lose control of your bladder and/or bowels in connection with your back pain, this requires immediate medical attention.

  • After trauma/accident: If your back pain results from an accident or acute injury, especially if it is severe, seek prompt medical care.


The important thing to realize is that while back pain is frustrating and at times limiting, there are steps you can take to improve your symptoms. Physical therapy is a frontline, non-invasive treatment for many types of back pain. Although it may not “cure” your back pain (depending on the cause), almost every patient sees improvement. If you’ve been unable to work, or pain is seriously limiting your life, improvement is a big deal!

Your Body One physical therapist will perform a full initial evaluation and discuss your history, symptoms, concerns, and goals. Through a mix of custom manual treatment and exercises, you’ll work with your provider to reach goals you set together. If your PT feels you would benefit from further examination or imaging like an x-ray, MRI, etc., they will recommend the next step. We treat a wide variety of back pain and its causes every day across our three clinics. Improving how people move, feel, and live is all in a day’s work – and if you’re seeing back pain red flags, or if you’re tired of not feeling your best, call or click today.

Body One is locally owned and operated, with three locations serving Central Indianapolis: North Meridian, Fishers, and Zionsville. If you’re ready to start feeling better, it’s time to find out what makes us the Best PT Team in Indy!