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Medical Red Flags

No, not this kind of red flag. Although this may be alarming to some.

In no other post of mine is it more important that before using this info, you first read my disclaimer.  If you’re just
interested in the info, still, read the disclaimer, and read on my friend!

Red flag’s were originally designed for health care practitioners (Physiotherapists, Chiro’s, etc. etc. who are NOT medical doctors) to be used as indicators that you aren’t mistaking good old back pain or a strain/sprain for something much, much worse.  Like cancer.  Or bone fractures.

Cuz that’s bad news brah.  As far as I know, there aren’t any exercises, hands on techniques, or multivitamins for broken bones and cancer.  No joke, that stuff requires serious medical intervention.

But, no matter who they are designed for, red flags can be used by any health care practitioner, including doctors, and even first aiders and, yes, you, to determine that something may be a little more serious.  If you see one of these signs, you should go to your family doctor, or if you are really worried, the emergency room.

BUT, before you freak out, don’t go losing your mind thinking you have something serious going on… these symptoms could mean a lot of things, and chances are, if you are active, it’s probably just an injury.  Going to a doctor is just playing it safe.

So, without further ado, here is a list of RED FLAGS, with some explanation:

Possible Bone Fracture: 

History (what the patient tells the health care person):

  • Major Trauma (like a car accident, high impact fall, etc.)
  • Minor Trauma (slip and low impact fall) in an elderly person, or someone with Osteoporosis.

Possible Tumor or Infection:


  • New episode of unexplained acute low back pain in someone aged >50 or <20 years. (that’s right, if you are under 20 and you suddenly get a bad case of low back pain that wasn’t from a fall or strain, and you aren’t quite sure why your back has suddenly acted up, cuz you don’t remember doing anything wrong, go see your doctor first!)  But, before you freak out: if you just tried to lift something heavy, or you work at a job where you may be constantly aggravating your back, its probably just regular back pain (which sucks, but it’s probably not cancer).
  • History of cancer (if you have a history of cancer, or strong family history of cancer, unexplained pain could be a sign you need to see your doctor).
  • Constitutional symptoms (fever, chills, weight loss). Now, before you freak out: keep in mind these are symptoms that cannot be explained.  If you are on a diet or exercising a lot, then the weight loss has an explanation… but if it’s for no apparent reason, could be diabetes, infection, tumor, etc.  Go to a doctor.
  • Recent bacterial infection. If you just had one, maybe it’s back.
  • IV drug use. If you had an IV (intra-venous) line in your arm cuz you were just in a hospital, it may be an infection.  If you are injecting anything else in your veins on your own, and it isn’t a drug that’s been prescribed to you, I suggest you stop that immediately. Go to a doctor.
  • Immunosuppression. Immune system down because or some condition or disease you already have? Go to the doctor.
  • Pain worsening at night or when supine. Supine means lying on your back. So if pain gets worse lying down, or at night, then go to your doctor before trying that massage for your back pain.

Possible Neurological Deficit. A neurological deficit means your nerves aren’t working quite right, and that can cause weakness or strange sensations. Things like strokes, brain injury, spinal cord injury, or other strange things like diabetes, Guillain-Barré Syndrome, etc can cause neurological deficits.


  • Severe or progressive sensory alteration or weakness. Legs feeling weaker and weaker for no explainable reason? Losing sensation in your legs, or some strange tingling like it fell asleep, only it isn’t going away like usual? That’s weird, go visit the doc!
  • Bladder or bowel dysfunction.  Losing control of your bathroom business?  Embarrassing yes, but you really should go talk to your doctor about it.

Physical examination (what a health care person can find when giving you an exam):

  • Evidence of neurological deficit (in legs or perineum in the case of low back pain). This point means if a health care person tests your nerve function and finds something weird, then you may have a neurological deficit. for example testing your sensation by touching both toes and asking if you feel it the same, and you say one is numb and the other is normal.

Source: http://www.hnehealth.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/28164/Guideline_flags.pdf

There you go, red flags.  If you have one of these things above going on, don’t go trying any stretch, exercise, or any technique at all on this site!  Hit up your doctor!


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