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Musculoskeletal Health: Neck and Back Pain Causes and How to Treat Them

08/10/2020
By Corey Lewis, CPT, CSCS

Do you often feel a sharp pain shooting down your back? Does your neck hurt when you move? Do you encounter stiffness, tingling sensations, or numbness around your back or neck region? If yes, then it’s an indication that you suffer from neck and back pain.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), musculoskeletal conditions include conditions that affect the spine, joints, bones, muscles, and multiple body systems. These types of musculoskeletal conditions are quite painful and may dampen your day, as they prevent you from going about your normal daily activities. Worse still, they may become life-threatening if not nipped in the bud.

The key to living a healthy life devoid of these musculoskeletal problems is to identify and treat the underlying causes. In this article, I take a look at the causes and how to treat these musculoskeletal problems.

Back Pain

Back pain can be severe, mild, dull, or even disabling pain. This often restricts movement and disrupts the normal functioning of the body, as well as your quality of life. There are two types of neck and back pain: acute and chronic. A neck or back pain that occurs suddenly (perhaps due to an injury) is called acute pain. It comes on suddenly and may leave just as quickly, and it usually doesn’t last more than six weeks.

Athletic running man with neck and back pain in sportswear rubbing touching lower back muscles.
Back Pain Often Restricts Movement And Disrupts The Normal Body Functioning (Image Source: Shutterstock)

However, a neck or back pain that lasts more than three months is referred to as chronic pain. This type of pain is less common than acute pain.

Symptoms of Back Pain

There are several symptoms associated with back pain, including the following:

  • Feelings of a sharp, burning, or dull pain in the back region; this pain can cover a large part of the back or can just be confined to a single spot
  • Numbness of the leg or a tingling sensation below or above the knee
  • Achiness or stiffness in the spinal region (anywhere from the neck to the tailbone)
  • A sharp or shooting pain that radiates from the buttocks down to the thigh, past the calf to the toes
  • A consistent ache in the lower or middle part of the back that’s more prominent upon sitting or standing for a long time

What Causes Back Pain?

Back pain can be caused by a number of reasons, including the following:

  • Ligament or Muscle Strain: Constantly lifting heavy objects can strain the muscles in the back and also the spinal ligaments. Besides, if you are in poor physical health, constantly straining your back can lead to muscle spasms.
  • Ruptured Disks: Disks are the cushions located between the bones of the spine. When a disk (which is soft) bulges or ruptures and presses on a nerve, it can lead to back pain. However, it’s possible to have a ruptured or bulging disk without feeling pain. Ruptured disks are not usually detected on routine checkups unless an X-ray is done.
  • Arthritis: Osteoarthritis also affects the lower back. In some cases, there could be arthritis in the spine that leads to the narrowing of the spinal cord. This condition is called spinal stenosis.
  • Scoliosis: This is a condition where the spine curves to the side; this often causes back pain once a person reaches middle age.
  • Osteoporosis: Back pain related to osteoporosis occurs when the spine’s vertebrae develop compression fractures because the spinal bones have become brittle and porous.

Back Pain Treatment

Most back pains often disappear after days or weeks of rest and some back pain relief exercises. However, back pain is a complex condition, and the level of pain differs from person to person. Back pain remedies include:

Medication

A doctor may recommend one of the following medications:

  • Muscle relaxants
  • OTC drugs such as naproxen, ibuprofen, and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Pain relievers such as ointments, creams, and salves
  • Antidepressants (e.g., amitriptyline)
  • Narcotics containing opioids (e.g., hydrocodone, oxycodone); this is only suitable for acute pain
7 Simple Core Exercises That Prevent Lower Back Pain – UC Sand Diego Health

Exercise and Physical Therapy

To treat your neck and back pain, you can engage a physiotherapist. They will apply various treatment options such as muscle-release techniques, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and heat therapy to your soft tissues and back muscles. This reduces the pain.

Upon improvement of the pain, the therapist can then introduce some exercises that will increase your flexibility, strengthen your abdominal and back muscles, and also improve your posture. Additionally, there are massage therapy benefits you get to enjoy when you engage the services of a physiotherapist.

Neck Pain

Neck pain occurs in the region of the cervical vertebrae of the neck. This type of pain can leave your neck vulnerable to injury.

Tired young man resting after running experiencing neck pain.
The Neck Supports The Weight Of The Head Which Makes It Vulnerable To Neck Pain (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Symptoms of Neck Pain

The symptoms associated with neck pain include:

  • Tingling or numbness of the arms
  • Shoulder pain
  • Headaches
  • Dull or sharp shooting pain in the neck

Causes of Neck Pain

The neck supports the weight of the head, so it is vulnerable to conditions and injuries that can cause pain. These pains are often caused by:

  • Muscular Strain: Spending many hours hunched over your laptop or smartphone can cause neck muscle pain. In fact, minor triggers such as gritting your teeth or reading in bed can strain the muscles in your neck.
  • Worn Out Joints: As you age, your neck joints wear out. Older people tend to have osteoarthritis, which leads to the deterioration of the cartilage between the vertebrae. This then causes the body to form bone spurs that affect the joint and cause pain. 
  • Diseases: Diseases such as arthritis, cancer, or meningitis can lead to neck pain.

How to Treat Neck Pain

Treating neck pain will depend on its cause. However, general treatment options include:

  • Adequate rest 
  • Hot or cold compress
  • Traction (including soft-collar traction)
  • Injection such as anesthetics or cortisone
  • Physical therapy including massage, manipulation, or ultrasound
  • Topical anesthetic creams and pain relief patches
  • Over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen
Young man doing hot or cold treatment for neck pain.
Hot Or Cold Compress For Neck Pain Treatment (Image Source: Shutterstock)

You can also apply some self-care measures, some of which include:

  • Neck pain relief exercises and stretches
  • Jacuzzi treatment
  • Neck pillows and hot pads
  • Braces and corsets

Alternatively, treatments such as nerve block (which decreases the pain from the affected area) and acupuncture can also be administered.

Bottom Line

A life free of neck and back pain is possible; it starts with identifying the causes and administering proper treatment. Different types and degrees of pain require different treatment methods, and you should seek the advice of a doctor to identify and treat the underlying cause of your pain. But I hope that the tips I shared in this article will set you on a path to becoming pain-free.

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