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Are you suffering from neck and back pain? Odds are, at some point in your life, you will–back pain is the number one pain-related reason why patients visit their doctor. Sometimes it’s a serious spine problem and sometimes it’s a minor tense muscle that will go away within days. We’re going to look at the causes of neck and back pain and discuss some short-term remedies and long-term treatments. We’re also going to talk about why neck and back pain so often go together. So let’s dive in and see if we can provide some solutions to neck and back pain.

The Causes of Neck Pain

When discussing the causes of neck pain, it’s important to understand the differences between acute and chronic neck pain. Knowing the differences, and understanding the causes and treatments will help lead you to pain relief and a better quality of life.

Acute Neck Pain

Acute pain is a sudden, painful flash that usually occurs right after an accident. It’s often caused by muscle or bone injury, possibly an accident that affects your ligaments, joints or discs.

It’s very painful, and can be debilitating as it may be virtually impossible to turn your head from side to side, or to lift your chin. Often, acute neck pain will go away quickly, as the injury that caused it takes care of itself: if it’s a tight muscle spasm or a pulled ligament. But if there’s an injury to your joints or discs, that’s a different issue altogether, and can require long-term care, therapy, and occasionally surgery, in which case, we’d recommend consulting a trusted physician.

Chronic Neck Pain

Chronic pain, as the name suggests, is a long-lasting pain that lingers and often gets worse over time. It can also be debilitating and become a short- or long-term disability. Chronic neck pain can last for months or years, and it can become unbearable. 

The causes for chronic neck pain can vary widely. Some patients say the pain comes from “nowhere” and can’t identify a specific cause. Sometimes it’s a problem as simple as sleeping on a bad mattress or with the wrong pillow. But chronic pain can also be caused by nerve damage, tissue scarring or arthritis.

Some possible causes of neck pain

Bad sitting posture

The way you sit at your desk at work, or even on your couch at home, can have serious repercussions on your neck. Make sure that you’re using a good-quality ergonomic desk chair, sit up and don’t slouch, don’t hunch over, and make sure that you stand up regularly to take breaks.

Bad posture when sleeping

As strange as it may sound, the position in which you sleep will have a significant effect on your neck’s health. Using a good mattress with firm support, as well as a pillow that keeps your head at the correct level, will minimize this pain. It may take some time to get used to the sleep changes, but it can definitely be worth it.

Sports accidents

You can suffer a neck injury in nearly every sport, because all it takes to tweak the neck muscles is to twist your head wrong too quickly. And of course an impact from a rowdy game of football or basketball or other contact sports will contribute to your neck’s health.

Carrying a heavy bag

Carrying heavy objects is all about ergonomics. If you have a heavy gym bag with a strap that hangs around your neck and is pulling hard to one side, odds are good that you’re going to get a muscle strain. Even if you just have the heavy bag on one shoulder and are walking with an irregular posture, you can hurt your neck – consider balancing the weight of what you are carrying.

Overuse by performing a repetitive activity

This can be something as minor as cradling your phone against your ear while you talk. If you perform this action too often, your body can tense up, the muscles reacting to the strain, and you can end up with a stiff neck.

Arthritis

Arthritis usually hits an older population, but it can also affect the young. Generally arthritis isn’t caused by anything that you have done, but it is a genetic or environmental disorder. Arthritis can cause pain in any joint, even the joints between the individual vertebrae.

Infection

An infection can get into the muscle tissue or worse, into the bone, and cause severe pain that an expert doctor is going to need to address.

Tumors

Not all tumors are cancerous, but any tumor can cause a problem with your joints. Often, a tumor will push against nerves, or rub between the joints, and you’ll experience pain until that tumor is diminished or removed.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a common bone problem that can affect anyone but more often affects aging women. There can be many treatments for osteoporosis, some through medication and some surgical. 

Herniated disc

A herniated disc can cause acute neck and back pain, and is often treated with painkillers and surgery. Discs can become herniated through activity, or simply as a product of aging. 

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a nerve disease that can cause pain throughout the body, including the neck and back. Although treatment options are limited, there are things that can be done to help alleviate the pain.

Solutions to Neck Pain

Before making the decision to see a doctor, there are some remedies you can try at home. You can start off with the classic ice and heat remedy: alternate between ice packs and heating pads as needed to relieve the pain. After a few days, you may be pain free and have full range of motion.

Another home remedy you can try is massage therapy. You can either visit a massage therapist and have them work on your back and neck, or you can do neck massage exercises by yourself at home. One common self-massage is to straighten your back and neck, press firmly on the painful areas, then gently move your fingers in circular motions, continuing for three to five minutes. 

Also, whenever the pain starts to get bad, you can find relief from over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatories. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen are must-haves in your medicine cabinet for instant relief.

The Causes of Back Pain

The biggest culprit of back pain is usually muscle strain.

And it can be caused by weight-lifting at the gym (acute pain) or onset over time due to bad posture in the office (possibly chronic pain). And, of course, it may be something more serious that isn’t caused by behavioral factors.

Here’s a list of common causes of back pain:

Strenuous exercise

While exercise is good for you and a good exercise regimen should be part of any lifestyle, strenuous exercise, or overexertion, can lead to back problems. It’s possible to strain, sprain, or even tear a muscle in your back. In some severe cases you can even hurt your spine. Listen to your body and don’t overwork yourself. And, if possible, get advice from a physical trainer or a physical therapist before trying particularly difficult workouts.

Lifting heavy weights (at the gym, work or even a big purse)

Any time you lift you have the danger of hurting your back in a number of ways. It could be lifting with your back, not your knees. It could be twisting while you lift. It could just be too much weight for you to handle. Whenever you’re lifting, make sure you’re ready for the load. With weights, try to have a spotter. With work equipment, boxes, or furniture, don’t be afraid to ask for help. And maybe empty out that bag of some non-essentials.

Bad sitting posture

The way we sit, whether in a chair or on a couch, affects the curvature of the spine. Maybe a little slouching and twisting won’t hurt it (though sometimes it only takes once) but over time, repeated bad posture can severely hurt our back muscles and even the shape of our spine.

Injury to the back during sports

We all want to get exercise, and sports are a great option, but almost all of us have had an injury on the court or field or track. Be sure to not over-exert. It’s all too common to be sedentary during the week and then become a weekend warrior on the basketball court, and our bodies are just not ready for the impacts.

Being sedentary

On the other end of the spectrum, a sedentary lifestyle can also have its drawbacks. Getting regular exercise will mean that your bones and muscles are able to handle work, so that if you do have to move that couch or lift that box or chase that dog, you won’t wear out a weak body part.

Obesity

Obesity has a whole host of medical conditions associated with it, but among them are the strain that all that extra weight you’re carrying is putting on your back. It may not seem like you’re lifting weights, but that extra 50, 75, or 100 pounds really pulls hard on your musculoskeletal system.

Arthritis

Arthritis can strike anyone, but most often as you age. It can get into any joint–even those joints between your vertebrae. There are treatments and medications you can take for arthritis.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a bone disease that most commonly affects aging women. There are treatments for osteoporosis, and you should talk about them with your doctor.

Smoking

Yes, smoking can cause back pain, and it’s not just because of the problems with the lungs. Constant smoking can cause excessive coughing, which is effectively the same as back spasms. These spasms can hurt your muscles, your cartilage, or your bones.

Solutions to Back Pain

Many of the remedies that we talked about above for treating neck pain can also be applied to back pain. For example, the cold or hot compresses, alternating as needed, can help to relieve tension, inflammation, and pain.

One of the best ways to avoid back pain is to prevent it before it ever happens: get your back stronger with aerobic exercises and stretches. You can contact a personal trainer for an exclusive exercise regime for back pain. Likewise, you should learn the correct way to lift heavy items: keep your back straight and to only bend at the knees. While lifting, you should never twist your back to avoid muscle damage.

However, if the problems are more serious, or the pain doesn’t go away, you should definitely consult a physician. There are many problems with the back that simply can’t be treated with home remedies and exercise, and need a professional’s care.

What about Neck and Back Pain at the same time?

Neck and back pain can onset at the same time and it’s common to see patients suffer from both. The reason is simple: both are interconnected with the same set of muscles, and of course: the spine. Any time you hurt your back or your neck, the pain can radiate up or down to affect other regions. Also, there’s also the problem that, as you baby your sore neck or sore back, you’re putting strain on other muscle groups, thereby causing additional pain.

So, if you suffer from any pain, be it in your back, neck or even on your arm  — contact Dr. Baig, our expert spine specialist.

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