Pain in any part of your body can be annoying, disturbing and disabling. When it comes to neck and back pain, then the pain can make you debilitating. If you suffer from neck and back pain, you cannot remain active and may miss work.
In other words, both back and neck pain can impact the quality of your life. Let us understand how neck and back pain can restrict your mobility and affect your work and life.
Cervical Spine – Spinal cord and spinal nerves
Let us learn the structure of the cervical spine to better understand neck pain. Your cervical spine is made up of seven cervical vertebrae; between these vertebrae are disks; they cushion the bone and allow your neck to bend, move, twist and turn.
The spine protects your spinal cord which passes through a space called the spinal canal – branches of spinal nerves exit the spine through spaces on both sides of your spine. These travel down to your shoulder and arms.
In many cases neck pain can be muscle-related; muscle tension, cramps and strains can cause neck pain. Neck pain can also be caused by the compression of the spinal nerves.
Symptoms of neck pain can vary depending on the cause of pain and severity of the pain. You may have muscle spasms, you may have a headache, you may have trouble bending, moving and stretching your neck and rotating your neck. These symptoms can get worse with movement.
Neck pain can radiate to the shoulders and arms
Problems in the neck can also cause pain in the shoulder. It can cause tingling and weakness in your arms and numbness in your hands.
Nature of Back and Neck pain
Back pain and neck pain can be intense and sudden; intermittent or continuous; lasting, persistent and progressive. When it is intense, comes on suddenly, it is acute pain – whereas chronic neck and back pain can continue for days, weeks, months or even years.
Neck and Back Pain Causes
Back pain in this technologically advanced world is not confined to a particular area or cause. It may be due to several causes including the following:
- Muscle spasm or tension
- Strain or Sprain
- Improper body posture while sitting
- Repetitive or heavy lifting
- Improper use of muscles
- Strenuous activity
- Weight lifting
- Extensive workouts or exercise
- Heavy weight lifting
- compression fractures due to weak vertebral bones
- Protruding or herniated (slipped) disk and pinched nerve
- Fractures in the vertebrae due to arthritis
- Osteoporosis-related vertebral fractures
- Degeneration of vertebrae
- Stresses on the ligaments and muscles of the spine
- Congenital abnormalities of the vertebrae and bones
- Effects of ageing
- Abnormal bone growth or tumours
- Ligaments and muscle tears
- Poor muscle tone
What are the symptoms of back and neck pain?
Back pain symptoms
- Pain is confined to a particular area
- Pain can cover a large area of the back
- Pain can be sharp, burning or dull
- Pain associated with tingling sensation and numbness in legs
- Pain associated with tingling and numbness above or below the knee
- Stiffness anywhere along the spine (ranging from neck to tailbone)
- Shooting or sharp pain originating from the lower back and radiating to the buttocks
- Pain moving down the back of the thigh, into the calf and toes
- Pain after sitting for long
- Pain after standing for long period of time
Neck pain symptoms
- Dull or sharp shooting pain in the neck
- Pain in the shoulder and arms
- Tingling or numbness in the arm
Acute Back and neck pain: It is sudden pain in the neck or back that comes suddenly and may leave sooner. It can be due to some jerk, fall or lifting something heavy. It doesn’t last longer than 5 to 6 weeks.
Chronic Back and neck pain: This type of pain may come on slowly or rapidly and remain for more than 2 to three months or more. It is less common though.
How is your neck and back pain diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider examines you thoroughly by doing a comprehensive physical examination. Based on the medical history, associated conditions and the symptoms that you are experiencing, the doctor may recommend X-rays and MRI of the affected area – neck or back. Your symptoms, X-rays and MRI reports will help in diagnosing the cause of your pain and detecting whether the cause of your pain is due to inflammation, infection, disk compression, cervical spondylitis, tumour or nerve compression by a protruding bone or something else. For diagnosing arthritis, your doctor may also order some blood tests.
Which doctor to consult for neck and back pain?
You must see a specialist doctor or orthopedic surgeon for your back and neck pain. If you experience numbness and tingling sensation in your arms, legs or feet; intense and severe pain that has increased after an injury, fall or accident.
Osteoporosis can cause vertebral fractures due to which you can experience neck pain or back pain. If you are prone to fractures with a history of osteoporosis or arthritis, then you should see an orthopaedic doctor.
You never had back pain, but have had trauma recently – you fell down and hurt your back badly since then you are experiencing back pain. In this case, you must see a spine and trauma surgeon as early as possible.
If you have neck pain with the stiffness of the neck, inability or difficulty in moving your neck, and difficulty in raising and lowering your neck, then you should see an orthopedic doctor.
Your back pain can also be due to nerve injury or compression. If you experience back pain that is limiting your mobility and ability to raise your foot and legs, move your ankles, raise your toes, move or raise your foot at ankles and thus making it difficult to walk – it could be due to nerve injury or nerve compression. In this case, you must see a spine specialist at the earliest.
Back and Neck pain with fever: If your back pain is associated with neck pain and fever above 100 F, it is better to visit a doctor. Individuals who develop low back pain that gets worse with rest should see their doctor as this could be due to malignancies, infections or ankylosing spondylitis.