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Red Flag Symptoms

Symptoms Chart Rhode Island

The vast majority of back problems improve on their own or with nonsurgical treatment. There are a few warning signs, however, that may indicate serious spinal problems. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

Loss of control of the bowel or bladder and retention of urine may indicate damage to the spine's cauda equina nerves. The cauda equina is a bundle of nerves in the low back where the spinal cord ends. Damage to these nerves can be permanent if not treated immediately (within a day or so). See a spine specialist, or go to an emergency room if necessary.

Weakness or numbness in a leg or arm, especially if it is severe—and it is getting worse—also points to nerve damage. This includes "foot drop," a condition where the muscles of the leg and foot are too weak to raise the foot up as the individual attempts to walk. Again, nerve damage associated with these symptoms can be permanent if not treated immediately. This problem should be seen within 24 hours by a spine specialist.

Numbness, pain or tingling that radiates into the arm or leg is also a source for concern and should be seen within a few days by a spine specialist.

High fever accompanied by back pain may indicate a possible infection of the spine and should be treated within 24 hours.

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Rules of Thumb on Symptoms

Here's an encouraging back fact: 80 percent of the time, back and neck pain is simply a result of strain or soft tissue injury. In many of these simple cases of back or neck strain, your condition will improve with specialized exercises, rest, and anti-inflammatory medicine. Other times, you may need to see a doctor, perhaps even as soon as possible. Briefly, here are some rules of thumb to keep in mind about your back or neck problems:

  • Trauma - If you fall down, are in a car accident, or do anything abrupt that may have fractured your back, go to a spine specialty clinic within 24 hours.
  • Radicular pain - Anytime you have back or neck pain that radiates down into your leg or arm, you probably need to be evaluated by a spine specialist within two to three days, especially if it is getting worse.
  • Persistent pain - If pain limited to the low back or neck area does not begin to subside after three days with anti-inflammatories and rest, then you probably need to be evaluated by a spine specialist. For example, if you first noticed back or neck pain on Monday, and it's now Thursday, and it's not getting better, it's time to see a spine specialist to find out what is causing your problem.
  • Anytime you experience loss of control of your bowel or bladder, that is an EMERGENCY signal that you need to see a spine specialist THE SAME DAY. If you wait too long, you could suffer permanent paralysis of the nerves that control these functions.
  • Foot drop - If you notice that your toe is dragging as you walk, this is a DANGER SIGNAL for serious neurological problems. Again, if you delay, you could experience permanent damage. This problem should be seen within 24 hours by a spine specialist.
  • Weakness, numbness or pain that extends below a knee or elbow is a serious symptom. Go to a spine center within two days.

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Do you Need an Appointment?

We have made it easier to schedule appointments, click the button to fill out an online appointment request form or call our new central scheduling line 401-457-1500 to schedule an appointment.

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SPECIALTY CENTERS
  • Spine
    • The Spine Center are referred back and neck pain patients across the New England States.
  • Hand & Wrist
    • The Hand & Wrist center deals with both surgical and nonsurgical treatment of conditions and problems.
  • Joint Replacement
    • The Joint Replacement Center provides the most modern treatment options for knee, hip, and shoulder replacement
  • Pediatric Orthopedics
    • The Pediatric Orthopedic Center consist of three surgeons who specialize in the care of children.
  • Foot & Ankle
    • The Foot & Ankle Center involves clinical teams that specialize in foot and ankle surgery.
  • Shoulder & Elbow
    • The Shoulder & Elbow Center includes orthopedic surgeons and therapists who specialize in shoulder and elbow.
  • Sports Medicine
    • The Sports Medicine Center helps those with sports-related injuries recover quickly to return to activity.
  • Trauma & Fracture
    • The Trauma & Facture center works closesly together with Rhode Island Hospital's trauma specialists to identify injuries.
  • Oncology
    • Our orthopedic oncology center includes the expertise of a specialist in oncology and reconstructive surgery.
  • Cartilage Repair Center
    Cartilage Repair
    • The Cartilage Repair Center offers state-of-the-art treatment of joint cartilage lesions
  • Orthodirect for sprains, fractures, work accidents, sports injuries
    Ortho Direct
    • Ortho Direct treats patients with urgent orthopedic needs from sprains, fractures, work accidents & sports injuries.
Brochures & Journals
  • Back to Life Journal
    • Subscribe to our Back to Life Journal to read information on the latest advances on joint replacement, sports medicine, orthopedic problems and back and neck pain.
Home Remedy Book
  • Home Remedy Book
    • Have back or neck pain? Learn what causes symptoms and the home remedies that relieve pain. University Orthopedics mails out Home Remedy Books to residents throughout the New England area.
About Us

University Orthopedics in Providence, Rhode Island, is a regional referral center for patients with back and neck pain, joint pain, sports medicine problems, shoulder pain, hand problems, hip and knee pain, and foot and ankle injury. University Orthopedics utilizes fellowship-trained, sub-specialized physicians to treat a variety of orthopedic problems.

  • PROVIDENCE 1
    2 Dudley Street, Suite 200
    Providence, RI 02905
    Phone: 401-457-1500

  • PROVIDENCE 2
    100 Butler Drive
    Providence, RI 02906
    401-277-0790

  • MIDDLETOWN
    345 Valley Rd.
    Middletown, RI 02842
    401-457-1500

  • EAST GREENWICH
    1598 South County Trail, Building 5
    East Greenwich, RI 02818
    Phone: 401-884-1177