No one really wants to be a worrier. We certainly don't want to visit our chiropractor or family doctor for every ache and pain. But eventually we all experience physical problems and it may be difficult to know what to do about them. Some problems are immediate and serious. If you suddenly experience crushing chest pain and radiating pain down your left arm, possibly with nausea, profuse perspiration, and a feeling of impending doom, you know you have to call "911" immediately, if you can. If you awaken in the middle of the night with an intense, deep, sharp pain in your lower right abdomen, accompanied by vomiting and a fever, you know you need to go to the Emergency Room right away. In these exceptional cases, however, most people know which steps to take. What should you do when your pain is not clear-cut and dramatic, as it is in a heart attack or acute appendicitis? General guidelines are available which may be applicable in many situations.
Overall, pain is a warning signal. But many problems that cause pain take care of themselves. For example, you may twist an ankle on your daily walk. It may hurt to put weight on that ankle and there may even be a bit of swelling, but within two days your ankle is much better. There was initial pain owing to soft tissue injury, possibly involving muscles, tendons, and/or ligaments. However, the injury wasn't so severe that your body's ability to self-heal couldn't manage the situation. In the case of a greater degree of initial pain and more swelling, or if improvement wasn't being obtained within 48 hours, a visit to your chiropractor would be appropriate. In borderline situations involving musculoskeletal pain, whether you choose to seek professional advice depends on your intuition and level of pain tolerance. If you think something is "wrong", regardless of the nature of the injury or the intensity of your pain, you should seek professional assistance.
With some categories of physical problems, making the time to visit your chiropractor is the best course of action.1,2 A single occurrence of low back pain or neck pain could be ignored, especially if the problem goes away in a few days. But repetitive episodes of spinal pain should always be evaluated by your chiropractor. A severe headache should probably lead to a chiropractic examination, especially if you've never before had the type of pain and the intensity of pain that you're currently experiencing. Persistent radiating pain into an arm or leg, accompanied by numbness and tingling, should be evaluated by your chiropractor. Again, if discomfort persists and you can't clearly explain to yourself why you're having the pain that you're having, the best thing to do is to make an appointment to see your doctor, that is, your chiropractor or your family physician. You want to obtain expert information and advice, and you want to receive treatment if needed and instructions on how to care for yourself in the days, weeks, and months ahead.3
Comfort level is a valuable criterion with respect to your overall health and well-being. After considering the general guidelines, people should take the appropriate action that they believe will best serve their welfare.
1Smart KM: Mechanisms-based classifications of musculoskeletal pain. Part 1. Symptoms and signs of central sensitisation in patients with low back (plus/minus leg) pain. Man Ther 17(4):336-344, 2012
2Thornton GM, Hart DA: The interface of mechanical loading and biological variables as they pertain to the development of tendinosis. J Musculoskelet Neuronal Interact 11(2):94-105, 2011
3McCarberg BH, et al: Diagnosis and treatment of low-back pain because of paraspinous muscle spasm: a physician roundtable. Pain Med 12(Suppl 4):S119-S127, 2011