About Back & Neck Pain

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Back Pain  

Back pain can affect people of any age, for different reasons. It can result from injury, activity and some medical conditions. As people get older, the chance of developing lower back pain increases, due to factors such as previous occupation and degenerative disk disease. 

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of back pain can include:

    • Muscle ache
    • Shooting or stabbing pain
    • Pain that radiates down your leg
    • Pain that worsens with bending, lifting, standing or walking
    • Pain that improves with reclining

Source: Mayo Clinic

When to see a doctor

Most back pain gradually improves with home treatment and self-care, usually within a few weeks. If yours doesn't improve in that time, see your doctor.

In some cases, back pain can signal a serious medical problem. Seek immediate care if your back pain:

    • Causes new bowel or bladder problems
    • Is accompanied by fever
    • Follows a fall, blow to your back or other injury

Contact a doctor if your back pain:

    • Is severe and doesn't improve with rest
    • Spreads down one or both legs, especially if the pain extends below the knee
    • Causes weakness, numbness or tingling in one or both legs
    • Is accompanied by unexplained weight loss

Also, see your doctor if you start having back pain for the first time after age 50, or if you have a history of cancer, osteoporosis, steroid use, or excessive drug or alcohol use.

Source: Mayo Clinic

Causes

Conditions commonly linked to back pain include:

    • Muscle or ligament strain. Repeated heavy lifting or a sudden awkward movement can strain back muscles and spinal ligaments.
    • Bulging or ruptured disks. Disks act as cushions between the bones (vertebrae) in your spine. The soft material inside a disk can bulge or rupture and press on a nerve.
    • Osteoarthritis can affect the lower back. In some cases, arthritis in the spine can lead to a narrowing of the space around the spinal cord, a condition called spinal stenosis.
    • Skeletal irregularities. This is a condition in which your spine curves to the side (scoliosis) also can lead to back pain, but generally not until middle age.
    • Osteoporosis. Your spine's vertebrae can develop compression fractures if your bones become porous and brittle.

Source: Mayo Clinic

Risk factors

These factors might put you at greater risk of developing back pain:

    • Age - back pain is more common as you get older, starting around age 30 or 40.
    • Lack of exercise - weak, unused muscles in your back and abdomen might lead to back pain.
    • Excess weight - excess body weight puts extra stress on your back.
    • Diseases - some types of arthritis and cancer can contribute to back pain.
    • Improper lifting - using your back instead of your legs can lead to back pain.
    • Psychological conditions - people prone to depression and anxiety appear to have a greater risk of back pain.
    • Smoking - smoking reduces blood flow to the lower spine, which can keep your body from delivering enough nutrients to the disks in your back. Smoking also slows healing.

Source: Mayo Clinic

Prevention 

You might avoid back pain or prevent its recurrence by improving your physical condition and learning and practicing proper body mechanics. To keep your back healthy and strong:

    • Exercise. Regular low-impact aerobic activities — those that don't strain or jolt your back — can increase strength and endurance in your back and allow your muscles to function better. Walking and swimming are good choices. Talk with your doctor about which activities you might try.
    • Build muscle strength and flexibility. Abdominal and back muscle exercises, which strengthen your core, help condition these muscles so that they work together like a natural corset for your back. Flexibility in your hips and upper legs aligns your pelvic bones to improve how your back feels. Your doctor or physical therapist can tell you which exercises are right for you.
    • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight strains back muscles. If you're overweight, trimming down can prevent back pain.
    • Quit smoking. Talk to your doctor about ways to quit.
    • Stand smart. Don't slouch. Maintain a neutral pelvic position. If you must stand for long periods, place one foot on a low footstool to take some of the load off your lower back. Alternate feet. Good posture can reduce the stress on back muscles.
    • Sit smart. Choose a seat with good lower back support, armrests and a swivel base. Placing a pillow or rolled towel in the small of your back can maintain its normal curve. Keep your knees and hips level. Change your position frequently, at least every half-hour.
    • Lift smart. Avoid heavy lifting, if possible, but if you must lift something heavy, let your legs do the work. Keep your back straight — no twisting — and bend only at the knees. Hold the load close to your body. Find a lifting partner if the object is heavy or awkward.

Source: Mayo Clinic

Treatment Options

Acute back pain can get better with a few weeks of home treatment. However, everyone is different, and back pain is a complex condition. For many, the pain may not go away for a long period.

If home treatments aren't working after several weeks, your doctor might suggest stronger medications or other therapies. For acute back pain, over-the-counter pain relievers and the use of heat might be all you need.

Continue your activities as much as you can tolerate. Try light activity, such as walking and activities of daily living. Stop activity that increases pain, but don't avoid activity out of fear of pain.

For acute back pain conditions, talk to your doctor.

Source: Mayo Clinic

 

Dietary Supplements

These are products taken orally that contain one or more ingredients (such as vitamins, minerals or amino acids) intended to supplement your diet.

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Turmeric

Shop Turmeric

Turmeric is a spice commonly used in Asian food that is derived from the root of the turmeric plant.  Several recent studies show that turmeric/curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties and modifies immune system responses, a possible advantage for people suffering from low back pain.  

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Devil’s Claw

Shop Devil's Claw

Devil’s claw is a plant native to southern Africa that has a long history of medicinal use.  Several studies have shown that Devil’s claw extract has effectively reduced low back pain and improved mobility, and, in some cases, it may be as effective as conventionally used drug treatments for lower back pain

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Willow Bark

Shop Willow Bark

Willow bark has been used throughout the centuries in China and Europe, and continues to be used today for the treatment of pain (particularly low back pain and osteoarthritis).  Some studies show willow bark is as effective as aspirin for reducing pain and inflammation (but not fever), and at a lower dose.

 

Topical

These are creams, salves or ointments you rub into your skin at the site of your pain.

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Capsicum (Capsaicin)

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Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chili peppers. When applied topically, capsaicin is thought to provide pain relief by temporarily changing the way your body processes pain.  Studies have shown that capsaicin can be effective in reducing low back pain.

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Camphor

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Camphor oil is made from turpentine can be used topically to relieve pain, irritation, and itching.  Studies have shown that applying camphor to the skin helps relieve pain and inflammation.

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Comfrey

Shop Comfrey

Comfrey has a centuries-old tradition as a medicinal plant. Studies have demonstrated the efficacy of comfrey preparations for the topical treatment of pain, inflammation and swelling of muscles and joints in degenerative arthritis, acute myalgia in the back, sprains, contusions and strains after sports injuries and accidents.

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Menthol

Shop Menthol

Menthol is the powerful organic compound found in mint and peppermint plants.  Menthol has a natural analgesic (pain reliever) attribute when used in lotion, gel, or cream form.  Menthol also triggers vasodilation (largening) of the blood vessels in the area, which increases blood flow to the area and reduces the skin barrier function.

 

Over-the-counter (OTC) Medications

Depending on the type of back pain you have, your doctor might recommend the following:

    • Pain relievers. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve), might relieve acute back pain. Take these medications only as directed by your doctor. Overuse can cause serious side effects. If OTC pain relievers don't relieve your pain, your doctor might suggest prescription NSAIDs.
    • Topical pain relievers. These are creams, salves or ointments you rub into your skin at the site of your pain.
    • Lidocaine
    • Benzocaine
    • Muscle relaxants. If mild to moderate back pain doesn't improve with OTC pain relievers, your doctor might also prescribe a muscle relaxant. Muscle relaxants can make you dizzy and sleepy.
    • Narcotics. Drugs containing opioids, such as oxycodone or hydrocodone, may be used for a short time with close supervision by your doctor. Opioids don't work well for chronic pain, so your prescription will usually provide less than a week's worth of pills.
    • Antidepressants. Low doses of certain types of antidepressants — particularly tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline — have been shown to relieve some types of chronic back pain independent of their effect on depression.
    • Injections. If other measures don't relieve your pain, and if your pain radiates down your leg, your doctor may inject cortisone — an anti-inflammatory medication — or numbing medication into the space around your spinal cord (epidural space). A cortisone injection helps decrease inflammation around the nerve roots, but the pain relief usually lasts less than a few months.  

Source: Mayo Clinic

Alternative Treatments (Services)

A number of alternative treatments might ease symptoms of back pain. Always discuss the benefits and risks with your doctor before starting a new alternative therapy.

    • Acupuncture. Some people with low back pain report that acupuncture helps relieve their symptoms.  A practitioner of acupuncture inserts sterilized stainless steel needles into the skin at specific points on the body.
    • Chiropractic care. A chiropractor hand-manipulates your spine to ease your pain.
    • Massage. If your back pain is caused by tense or overworked muscles, massage might help.
    • Physical Therapy. A physical therapist can apply a variety of treatments, such as heat, ultrasound, electrical stimulation and muscle-release techniques, to your back muscles and soft tissues to reduce pain.
    • Yoga. Yoga can stretch and strengthen muscles and improve posture, although you might need to modify some poses if they aggravate your symptoms.

Source: Mayo Clinic

 

Devices

There are also a number of simple and effective devices aimed at reducing further injury or assisting with the healing process.

  • Heat pads
  • Cold pads
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). A battery-powered device placed on the skin delivers electrical impulses to the painful area. Studies have shown mixed results as to TENS' effectiveness.
  • Braces
  • Traction device
  • Posture device
  • Body mechanics

 

Lifestyle

  • Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. The foods we eat – and how much – can prevent and reverse a host of health conditions, including some types of back pain. Studies have suggested that an anti-inflammatory diet can be as effective at treating back pain as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
  • Achieve a healthy weight. Carrying extra weight can significantly strain your back muscles and spine.  Losing weight can be difficult; however, doing so can help control your back pain, prevent the condition from getting worse, and even potentially eliminate the need for pain medication or surgery.
  • Change your shoes.  High-heeled sandals, pumps, and stilettos can push the lower back, spine, and hips out of alignment, which leads to muscle overuse and back pain. You can choose lower heels, avoid pointy toed-shoes, or use gel and padded inserts to reduce the impact on your hips and spine.
  • Get more exercise. You might be tempted to take a break from physical activity when your back hurts, but doing so can actually make the pain worse. For many patients, a personalized combination of strength training exercises focused on the core (the abdominal and back muscles), flexibility exercises, and aerobic activity can effectively prevent and control chronic back pain:
  • Quit smoking. Smoking inhibits blood flow and prevents tissue throughout the body from getting oxygen and nutrients, which can cause the spine and back muscles to weaken. The result can be chronic back pain.


Source: UT Southwestern Medical Center