Back and Neck Pain

What is back and neck pain?

Back pain can range from a mild, dull, annoying ache, to persistent, severe, disabling pain. Pain in your back can limit your ability to move. It can interfere with normal functioning and quality of life. Always talk with your healthcare provider if you have persistent pain.

Neck pain occurs in the area of the cervical vertebrae in your neck. Because of its location and range of motion, your neck is often left unprotected and at risk for injury.

Pain in your back or neck area can come on suddenly and intensely. Chronic pain lasts for weeks, months, or even years. The pain can be constant or come and go.

What are the symptoms of back and neck pain?

Symptoms linked to back pain may include:

  • Dull, burning, or sharp pain in your back.  The pain can be limited to a single spot or cover a large area.
  • Leg numbness or tingling above or below your knee
  • Stiffness or aching that occurs anywhere along your spine from your neck to your tailbone
  • Sharp, shooting pain that spreads from your low back to your buttocks, down the back of  your thigh, and into your calf and toes
  • Consistent ache in the middle or lower part of your back, especially after standing or sitting for a long period

Loss of bladder and bowel control, with weakness in both legs, are symptoms of a serious condition that needs medical attention right away.

Symptoms linked to neck pain can be:

  • Arm numbness or tingling
  • Headaches
  • Shoulder pain
  • Sharp shooting pain or a dull ache in your neck

Pain that occurs suddenly in your back or neck from an injury ia acute pain. Acute pain comes on quickly and may leave sooner than chronic back or neck pain. This type of pain should not last more than 6 weeks.

Pain that may come on quickly or slowly and lingers for 3 months or greater is chronic pain. Chronic pain is less common than acute pain.

How are back and neck pain diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your health history and do a physical exam. He or she may also do X-rays of the affected areas, as well as an MRI. This allows a more complete view.  The MRI also makes pictures of soft tissues such as ligaments, tendons, and blood vessels. The MRI can help spot infection, tumor, inflammation, or pressure on your nerve. Sometimes a blood test may help diagnose arthritis, a condition that can cause back and neck pain.

How are back and neck pain treated?

In many cases, acute back or neck pain may simply improve with some rest. Over-the-counter medicines such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen may also help with the discomfort. Try to move gently during this period, so that you won't become stiff and lose mobility.

If you have chronic pain of your back and neck, try several remedies before considering surgery. These include:

  • Hot or cold packs as advised by your healthcare provider
  • Certain exercises to strengthen muscles and ease pain, such as stretching and flexing. Your healthcare provider can show you these exercises. Physical therapy can also help you find the correct exercises.
  • Aerobic exercise may help with your overall fitness and strength
  • Certain anti-inflammatory medicines or muscle relaxants may be used, as advised by your provider
  • Braces or corsets for extra support
  • Shots (injections) for pain relief in the area
  • Nerve block. This eases pain signals from  the affected nerve.
  • Acupuncture
  • Osteopathic manipulation

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