Back pain can range from a mild, dull, annoying ache, to persistent, severe, disabling pain. Pain in your back can restrict mobility and interfere with normal functioning and quality of life. You should always consult your healthcare provider if you have persistent pain.
Neck pain occurs in the area of the cervical vertebrae in your neck. Due to 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 continuous or intermittent.
Even with today's technology, the exact cause of back and neck pain is difficult to determine. In most cases, back and neck pain may have many different causes, including any of the following:
Symptoms associated with back pain may include:
Loss of bladder and bowel control, with weakness in both legs, are symptoms of a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.
Symptoms associated with neck pain can be:
Pain that occurs suddenly in your back or neck, due to an injury, is considered to be 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 weeks, 3 months or greater, is considered to be chronic pain. Chronic pain is less common than acute pain.
If you have neck or back pain, see your healthcare provider for a medical and physical exam. He or she may also do X-rays of the affected areas, as well as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This allows a more complete view. The MRI produces pictures of soft tissues as well, such as ligaments, tendons, and blood vessels. The MRI could 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.
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 will not become stiff and lose mobility.
If you have chronic pain of your back and neck, try several remedies that may be helpful, before seeking surgical options. These include:
Acute back pain usually gets better without special treatment. Using acetaminophen or ibuprofen will decrease pain and help you rest. Surgery and special exercises are generally not used with acute pain.
For severe, disabling, or chronic back and neck pain, rehabilitation programs can be designed to meet your needs. The type of program will depend on the type and severity of your pain, injury, or disease. Your active involvement is vital to the success of rehabilitation programs.
The goal of back and neck rehab is to help you manage disabling pain, return to your highest level of functioning and independence possible, while improving your overall quality of life. The focus of rehab is on relieving pain and improving mobility (movement).
To help reach these goals, back and neck rehabilitation programs may include:
It is a good idea to see a healthcare provider if you have numbness or tingling, or if your pain is severe and does not improve with medicine and rest. If you have trouble urinating, weakness, pain, or numbness in your legs, fever, or unintentional weight loss, call your healthcare provider right away.
The following may help to prevent back and neck pain:
See your healthcare provider if you have:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
The University of Chicago Medicine
5841 S. Maryland Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637 | 773-702-1000
Appointments: Call UCM Connect at 1-888-824-0200