Back Burning Sensation

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Introduction

What is a back burning sensation?

Back burning sensations are any sensations anywhere on the back that elicit a feeling of warmth or heat and may or may not be accompanied by pain. Back burning sensation may also be accompanied by a wide variety of other symptoms, some of which may include feelings of tingling or numbness (paresthesia) or itching.

A host of underlying events or conditions may cause back burning sensations. These include, but are not limited to, actual burns, including chemical, thermal or electrical burns; neurological problems, including pinched nerves; infectious conditions, such as shingles (herpes zoster); and muscle sprains, strains or spasms. Such underlying diseases as multiple sclerosis or encephalitis may also cause back burning sensations.

Most people will experience back pains at some point in their lives. Although not all back pain is associated with back burning sensations, these sensations are quite common. Anyone may experience back burning sensations, although older people will more commonly experience these sensations because they are more susceptible to many of the underlying causes of these symptoms.

Due to the wide variety of potential underlying causes of back burning sensations, you should always seek professional medical advice when you experience this symptom. Most of the time, back pain, including back burning sensations, will be treated with rest and pain medications.

Back burning sensations can be an indication of a serious underlying condition or disease. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if your back burning sensations are due to a serious burn or traumatic injury or are accompanied by severe weakness in the legs, incontinence of urine or stool, or high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit). Seek prompt medical care if your back burning sensation is persistent or causes you concern.

Symptoms

What other symptoms might occur with back burning sensations?

Back burning sensations may accompany other symptoms, which will vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. These underlying conditions may also cause symptoms in other locations in the body.

Other back symptoms that may occur along with back burning sensations

Back burning sensations may accompany other symptoms affecting the back including:

  • Blistering
  • Numbness
  • Pain
  • Pins-and-needles (prickling) sensation
  • Rash
  • Redness, warmth or swelling
  • Scarring
  • Shock

Other symptoms that may occur along with back burning sensation

Back burning sensations may accompany symptoms related to other body systems. Such symptoms include:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, back burning sensations may be a symptom of a life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:

  • Actual burns (thermal, electrical or chemical)
  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Paralysis, even if temporary
  • Severe pain
Causes

What causes back burning sensation?

Back burning sensations can be due to a variety of physical causes or underlying conditions. For example, back burning sensations may be due to actual burns on the back. Alternatively, they may be due to an underlying disorder that affects the nervous system, causing the nerves in the back to produce burning sensations.

Causes of back burning sensations originating in the back

Back burning sensations may be caused by events or conditions originating in the back including:

  • Burns, including thermal, chemical, electrical, or radiation burns and sunburn

  • Degenerative disc disease (caused by wear and tear and the effects of aging on the spine)

  • Muscle sprain

  • Muscle strain

  • Nerve entrapment or compression

  • Spinal cord injury or tumor

Other conditions or diseases that cause back burning sensations

Back burning sensations can also be caused by conditions or diseases that are systemic including:

  • Alcoholic neuropathy (nerve damage associated with excessive alcohol consumption)

  • Diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage due to high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes)

  • Encephalitis (inflammation and swelling of the brain due to a viral infection or other causes)

  • Multiple sclerosis (disease that affects the brain and spinal cord causing weakness, coordination, balance difficulties, and other problems)

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (chronic autoimmune disease characterized by joint inflammation)

  • Shingles (herpes zoster)

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues)

  • Transverse myelitis (neurological disorder causing inflammation of the spinal cord)

  • Vitamin deficiencies

Serious or life-threatening causes of back burning sensations

In some cases, back burning sensations may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

      Questions for diagnosing the cause of back burning sensations

      To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your back burning sensations including:

      • When did you first experience these sensations?

      • Have you recently injured (including sprained or strained) your back?

      • Are the sensations made worse or better depending on what you do?

      • Are they located at a specific spot in the back, or generally throughout the back?

      • Are you taking any medications?

      • Do you have a history of back problems?

      • Do you have any other symptoms?

        What are the potential complications of back burning sensations?

        Back burning sensations may be due to serious underlying conditions or diseases that should be promptly treated. Because back burning sensations can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

        • Disability

        • Permanent nerve damage (due to a pinched nerve), including paralysis

        • Spread of cancer

        • Spread of infection

        • Unconsciousness and coma

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        Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
        Last Review Date: 2018 Oct 19
        1. Burns. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/burns.html.
        2. NINDS paresthesia information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/paresthesia/paresthesia.htm.
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