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When to worry about back pain 

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

The bark of low back pain is almost always much worse than its bite, and this reassuring fact is one of the most important ideas that I constantly emphasize. But scary medical causes of low back pain do happen. The story of actor Andy Whitfield is a disturbing and educational example.

Whitfield was the star of the hit TV show Spartacus. The first sign of the cancer that killed him in 2011 was steadily worsening back pain. It’s always hard to diagnose a cancer that starts this way, but Whitfield was in the middle of intense physical training to look the part of history’s most famous gladiator. Back pain didn’t seem unusual at first, and some other symptoms may have been obscured. (For instance, some weight loss could have even seemed like a training victory at first.) It was many long months before he was diagnosed — not until the back pain was much too severe and constant. A scan revealed a large tumour pressing against his spine.

A film about Andy Whitfield, Be Here Now, is nearing completion as of mid-2013. It will probably be inspiring and heart-wrenching. Spartactus is worthwhile, by the way (although rated very, very R). See my personal blog for a short Spartacus review. For more about how to know when to worry about back pain, and when not to, see When to Worry About Low Back Pain.

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