Watchful Waiting & Education

Michael L. Reed

Updated 6/2014

Spine-related conditions and injuries can create symptoms such as pain, burning and tightness, to name a few. These can cause great concern and fear for a patient. Fortunately, as with many other types of injuries and musculoskeletal conditions, these symptoms often resolve spontaneously, gradually, without the need for formal “treatment.”

While it makes sense to undergo an evaluation with an experienced medical practitioner to rule out anything serious, in the absence of “red flags,” time and patience often prevail as the best treatment option. By learning about the common causes of spine-related injuries and conditions, understanding the expected resolution of symptoms with the passage of time, and how to properly return to normal activities, many patients can manage their spine-related symptoms independently.

“Red flags” that should signal a call to a medical practitioner include:

  • Trauma as the cause of injury
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Immunosuppression: this means the immune system can’t fight infection or disease
  • History of cancer
  • Intravenous drug use
  • Steroid use
  • Osteoporosis
  • Age > 50
  • Neurologic deficit: this means symptoms like numbness, tingling, weakness, balance changes, or an alteration in bowel and/or bladder function

Educational strategies might include one-to-one discussions, handouts and pamphlets, videos, computer-assisted training and hands-on demonstrations.