The Comprehensive Guide to Back Pain and Neck Pain: Causes, Relief, and Treatment
The Comprehensive Guide to Back and Neck Pain: Causes, Relief, and Treatment
Back and neck pain can be incredibly inconvenient and have a massive impact on our daily lives. There are a number of different causes, each of them ranging from mild to severe. Whether your pain is fleeting or chronic, there is no need to suffer in silence.
In this guide, we look at back pain relief, back pain treatment, and the causes behind it. Additionally, we also explore neck pain relief, neck pain causes, and treatment for it, all in an effort to help you understand more about your condition and the ways in which you can make life a little easier.
Section One: Back Pain
Back pain affects millions of people across the country, and it can be really difficult to live with. In fact, it is one of the most claimed disabilities by those who are unable to work. Whether it is caused by an injury or illness, there is a lot that you might not know about the causes, relief, and treatment available. This section takes you through it all.
Chapter 1: The Causes of Back Pain
There are a number of different causes for back pain, and most of them are not due to things like injuries and accidents. Whether you are suffering from upper back pain or lower back pain, this section takes you through some of the most notable causes. If you find yourself concerned at any point, it is important to consult your doctor.
#1 The Causes of Upper Back Pain: Most Common Causes
Poor posture is one of the leading causes of upper back pain, especially as it can be quite easy to develop. If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, with long periods of time spent sitting, it can cause structural changes in your back and neck. This is because the muscles lose condition and become weak, therefore leading them to not be able to hold the spine in full alignment. A hunched head and shoulders put unnecessary pressure on the bones, discs, ligaments, and other soft tissues of the spine. Plus, if you are inclined to lean toward one side more than the other it can lead to a form of imbalance that causes pain.
Improper lifting techniques are also one of the main causes of upper back pain, especially for those who have careers that involve manual labour. If you lift incorrectly, and without ensuring the spine is properly aligned, it can put a lot of stress on your upper back, which causes pain. Similarly, lifting something heavy over your head and not being centred (instead of leaning more towards one side), may cause shoulder and back pain, as well as make them susceptible to injury.
Overuse could also cause pain in your upper back. This can be caused by a number of things, such as helping a friend move house, rearranging your own home, or participating in a day of manual labour for some extra cash. Regardless of what you may be doing, if it involves a lot of movement and lifting, you should make sure you take care of your back.
Accidents and collisions may also lead to upper back pain or injuries. This could be trauma from a car or bike accident, a fall from a height (such as a ladder or scaffolding), or a collision that occurred during a sport like hockey. The upper back pain is usually caused by damage to the spinal bones, discs, muscles, ligaments, nerves, and other soft tissues.
Of course, upper back pain can also be caused by a combination of those mentioned above. A good example of this is combining overuse with an improper lifting technique.
#2 The Causes of Upper Back Pain: Least Common Causes
Thoracic herniated disc. While these are not uncommon per se, it is very rare for one to cause pain of any kind. Generally speaking, spinal degeneration that is natural and age-related is far more likely to cause discomfort (and other symptoms) in the lumbar spine or the cervical spine.
Compression fractures are most commonly caused by osteoarthritis in older adults, and it occurs when a vertebral bone cannot fully support the weight above it due to weakening. As a result, small fractures develop over time as it becomes compressed, which leads to the vertebrae turning into a wedge shape. If enough height it lost, it can cause chronic pain and changes in posture.
There are a number of forms of arthritis that could also contribute to upper back pain. Some examples of the types of arthritis that can cause this are osteoarthritis, which is caused by natural wear and tear, as well as rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disease.
Fibromyalgia is a rare condition that causes pain and discomfort to spread across the entire body. However, the upper back is one of the most commonly affected areas. If you are concerned about your upper back pain, it is important to get tested for every possibility.
A severe spinal deformity could also be the cause of upper back pain. If it is left untreated and allowed to progress for long enough, it can end up causing painful muscle spasms, as well as stress on the discs and even your joints. As a result, it is important to ensure that spinal deformities are treated.
#3 The Causes of Lower Back Pain: Ligament Sprain and Muscle Strain
A sprain or strain in the lower back can happen quite suddenly and without any warning, or it can develop at a slow rate over a period of time as a result of repetitive movements. A strain occurs when a muscle ends up being stretched too far and tears, which ends up damaging the muscle. A sprain, on the other hand, is caused by over-stretching and tearing that affects the ligaments that connect the bones together.
While they are not often as serious as other forms of lower back pain, they can cause a lot of pain and discomfort. The common causes of sprains and strains are as follows:
- Lifting a heavy object or twisting your spine while lifting
- Sudden movements, like falling, that place stress on the back
- Poor posture
- Sports injuries, especially those that involve heavy impacts or a lot of twisting
#4 The Causes of Lower Back Pain: Chronic Pain
Lumbar herniated disc. The lumbar disc has a centre that is a lot like jelly in terms of its appearance and consistency. These can break through the tough outer layer of the disc and spread, causing a great deal of irritation and inflammation when they end up reaching a nerve root. As the disc wall also contains a lot of nerve fibres, the tear through it can cause severe pain.
Degenerative disc disease is caused by a lack of hydration in the discs as a person ages. When we are born, the discs are filled with water – which is when they are at their healthiest. As hydration decreases, it loses its ability to resist force the way it used to. The development of tears can cause pain and weakening that ultimately leads to herniation.
Facet joint dysfunction. At the motion segment in the lumbar spine, there are two facet joints between each disc. There is cartilage between the joints, as well as a great deal of nerves, which is what can make this condition incredibly painful.
Sacroiliac joint dysfunction. This joint connects the sacrum at the bottom of the spine to each side of the pelvis. It is a strong joint with low levels of motion that is primarily used to absorb shock and tension between the upper and lower body. It can become very painful if inflamed, or if there is too much/too little motion of the joint.
Spinal stenosis is a condition that causes pain due to the narrowing of the spinal canal where the nerves are located. The narrowing can occur at any location in the lower back, and it could be located in the central, foraminal, or both sections of the lower back.
Deformity in the form of curvature of the spine can cause a great amount of lower back pain, especially if it is left untreated. Deformities could be attributed to lower back pain if they cause the breakdown of discs, facet joints, sacroiliac joints, or stenosis.
Trauma, such as an acute fracture or dislocation of the spine, could lead to chronic pain. Lower back pain that develops after a trauma, such as a car or a motorbike accident, should be looked at by a medical professional as soon as possible.
Compression fractures are ones that occur in the cylindrical vertebrae, and it is where the bone literally caves in on itself, causing sudden pain. This type of fracture is most commonly caused by weak bones, often as the result of osteoarthritis, and it is most common in older people.
#5 The Causes of Lower Back Pain: Least Common Causes
An infection known as osteomyelitis can cause severe pain, and is potentially deadly if left untreated. It is an infection of the spine that can be caused by surgical procedures, injections, or spread through the bloodstream. For those with a weak immune system, this can be a particularly dangerous condition.
Tumours could also be the reason for lower back pain. The vast majority of spinal tumours start in a different part of the body before spreading to the spine. The most common areas for tumours like this to start are the lungs, breasts, prostate, kidneys, or thyroid. If you experience back pain and already have a cancer diagnosis, it is important to get it checked out immediately.
Autoimmune diseases can cause lower back pain as well. It is often a symptom associated with a number of autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, fibromyalgia, and lupus, among others.
Chapter 2: How to Relieve Back Pain
It can seem like an impossible task, but there are a few good ways in which you can try to relieve back pain and make things easier on yourself. In this section, we go through some of the top methods for relieving lower and upper back pain alike.
#1 Lower Back Pain Relief
Massage therapy can be an excellent form of pain relief for your lower back. In fact, it can benefit your whole body. Massages help to release endorphins from your brain, which spread across the body and help to alleviate things like stress – which can contribute to chronic back pain. They help to block pain signals, so your massage will leave your lower back feeling better than ever before. Not to mention that it can be great for anxiety and depression.
Making sure you keep moving is also a great way to try and relieve pain in your lower back. One of the worst things you can do is stay still, as this will lead to the muscles and joints stiffening, making things more painful for you. Of course, you must not overdo it, but simple things like walking the dog, making the bed, and doing housework will help to keep things moving.
If you wear high heels, this could be contributing to your lower back pain. As a result, the best thing you can do is switch them out for a pair of flat shoes and see how that works out for you. High heels can create an unstable posture, and also increase the pressure on your lower spine.
#2 Back Pain Relief Products
There are a number of items and products that you can invest in to relieve the pain in your back. One of these is a good quality mattress. This will be more comfortable on your back, allowing you to sleep through the night and wake up in less pain than normal (if any at all). Not getting enough sleep can worsen pain and inflammation, so it’s essential that you are able to get enough rest. You can also add an extra pillow under your body to encourage and support the natural curvature of your spine.
Heat and cold therapy can also be a fantastic way to relieve yourself from both upper and lower back pain. This is where you apply hot or cold packs to the affected areas in order to reduce pain and discomfort, as well as boost the healing process. Cold packs are excellent for reducing inflammation, which is often the primary cause of back pain. It also works as a local anaesthetic by slowing down nerve impulses, preventing the nerves from spasming again and causing you further pain.
Hot packs are also known as heat therapy packs, and they are ideal for stimulating the blood flow through the affected area, encouraging healing nutrients to make their way to the area in question. It also works to inhibit the pain messages that are being sent to the brain. Of course, heat can come in many forms, from specialised packs to a hot bath or shower. It’s best to try out each of the methods to find the one that works best for you.
#3 Losing Weight
Having excess weight can cause a lot of strain on your back because it pulls on your back throughout the day, with the only relief being found when you are laying down. Just shedding even a few pounds could do a tremendous amount of good for your back and any pain that it is in. If you find yourself struggling to lose weight, speak with your doctor or a dietician for further help and advice.
Chapter 3: Treatment for Back Pain
There are a variety of treatments for back pain, and not all of them involve medication. Regardless of your preferences or beliefs, this section has a potential treatment for everyone who is suffering from back pain.
#1 Physical Therapy (Bodywork)
It is amazing what physical therapy can do for your back, and your body as a whole. If you are in pain, speak to your doctor and get a referral to a good physio for treatment. They know how to work every inch of your back to relieve pain and discomfort, leaving you feeling worlds better by the end of it.
Aquatic therapy is another option, and it often takes place in warm therapeutic pools. The buoyancy of the water helps to alleviate strain and pressure on the joints, encouraging the gentle stretching and strengthening of the muscles. Plus, just floating in warm water can help to relax muscles and increase circulation (which is brilliant for arthritis).
This is an excellent form of short-term pain relief, which is ideal for those who have a temporary back issue that is being rectified. The use of painkillers should be handled carefully and responsibly to avoid addiction in the long run. Aspirin and ibuprofen are the most commonly used and prescribed, but there are stronger forms of pain relief available if needed. You just have to speak with your doctor.
#3 Herbal Therapies
If you are not particularly fond of using painkillers bought over the counter or that have been prescribed by a doctor, there are alternative forms of pain relief available. Natural remedies can prove just as effective, and sometimes work better for people. Supplements like calcium and magnesium can also work wonders for reducing back pain. You can speak to your doctor about trying out some herbal remedies to relieve your pain.
Chapter 4: Exercises for Back Pain
It can be really beneficial to take up exercise to help with your back pain. There are, in fact, so many ways in which it can benefit you, and also work to ease the pain and discomfort that you feel. Ultimately, it can lead to your muscles and joints being strengthened, as well as the minimisation of painful episodes – even reducing the amount of discomfort you feel.
#1 Yoga for Back Pain
It’s amazing just how beneficial yoga can be when it comes to relieving back pain and making life a little easier for you. It works to loosen tight muscles, as well as building up strength and a range of motion that helps to relax your body. While this is great for your muscles, it can also help to reduce your pain perception, so you barely notice your back while you are exercising. In the long run, yoga for back pain can help to drastically improve the overall condition of your back.
#2 Inversion Tables
An inversion table could be the best solution for you if you are suffering from upper or lower back pain. It involves hanging upside down, or at angles that are close to it, so that gravitational pressure is reduced with regards to the nerve roots in the spine, and the space between vertebrae is increased.
It can be a great way to get short-term relief, especially for those with spinal disc compression. Of course, there are risks to the inversion table for those with glaucoma, heart disease, or high blood pressure, so check with your doctor first. A home gym can also be very beneficial as it provides you with all of the equipment you need to exercise gently and efficiently in order to help relieve your back pain.
#3 Exercise Your Core: Lower Back Pain
The muscles found in your back and abs play a pretty major role in supporting your lower spine, and they don’t tend to get a very good workout when carrying out a normal day. Instead, you need to use exercises that specifically target them. There is a wide number to choose from, and the vast majority of them can be completed in a mere 20 or 30 minutes each day. In fact, even sitting upright on a ball for this period of time can help to engage these core muscles.
#4 Hamstring Stretches: Lower Back Pain
When it comes to exercises that relieve lower back pain, tight hamstrings are overlooked far more than they should be. Located on the back of your thighs, hamstrings that are too tight can cause stress to your lower back and sacroiliac joints, leading to a great deal of pain. Gently stretching your hamstrings twice a day can help to reduce the feelings of pain and discomfort, and there are many that you can do that will not hurt.
#5 Stretches for Lower Back Pain
There are a number of stretches that you can do in order to try and relieve your lower back pain. Here are some of the best ones to use:
- Backside to heels stretch
- Knee rolls
- Back extensions
- Deep abdominal strengthening
- Pelvic tilts
You can find the full guide on how to correctly, and safely, do these stretches here.
#6 Stretches for Upper Back Pain
Similarly, there are quite a few stretches that you can do to help your upper back and any pain or discomfort you are in. Here are some of the best stretches that you can use:
- Pectoralis stretches
- Thoracic extension
- Arm slide on wall
- Scapular squeeze
- Mid-trap exercise
- Thoracic stretch
- Quadruped arm and leg raise
- Rowing exercise
You can find the full guide on how to correctly, and safely, do these stretches here.
Section Two: Neck Pain
Neck pain is something that will have affected all of us at some point, whether it lasted a few hours or even a few weeks. There are a number of reasons as to why you might find yourself suffering from neck pain, and in this section, we go through the key causes, treatments, and relief that is available to you.
Chapter 5 :The Causes of Neck Pain
Neck pain can be caused by a vast number of things, and the factors range from accidents to illness. Here, we go through the top ten causes of neck pain and the symptoms associated with them, so you might end up with some answers to the question “why does my neck hurt?” Hopefully, it will help you to gain a better understanding of the various causes.
This is one of the main causes of neck pain, and it is usually caused by a car accident. Whiplash occurs when the head is thrown forward and back again with great force, causing severe stiffness, headaches, and dizziness. It tends to last no more than three months, and those who have whiplash are restricted when it comes to activities like theme parks. Some people may experience chronic pain and headaches for a few years after their accident.
#2 Sleeping in an Odd Position
Sometimes we wake up from sleep with a really sore neck, and this pain can last for the entire day (and maybe even a few days after). It causes the neck to become very stiff and sore, often resulting in discomfort while sitting down and taking part in normal activities. It is one of the most common causes of neck pain for people of all ages.
#3 Poor Posture
When it comes to posture and neck pain, this is usually the result of poor posture when sitting at a desk and working on the computer, or even taking notes by hand. The head is often in a forward position, leaning over or towards the tool you are using for work, which is why this tends to be classed as lower neck pain. This causes strain on the muscles and tendons that surround the spine and neck, leading to an increase in pressure which ten causes severe discomfort. It can also lead to pain in the shoulders, as well as them becoming rounded.
#4 Herniated Disc
The lumbar disc has a centre that is a lot like jelly in terms of its appearance and consistency. These can break through the tough outer layer of the disc and spread, causing a great deal of irritation and inflammation when they end up reaching a nerve root. As the disc wall also contains a lot of nerve fibres, the tear through it can cause severe pain. While this often starts in the lower back, it can also spread to the neck, causing stiffness and pain when you move.
This is a common form of arthritis that affects a large number of people, although it typically starts to progress as you get older. It can damage any joints in your body, but it most commonly affects the spine, which is what can lead to chronic neck pain. It is a condition that slowly worsens over time, but there are ways to make things a little easier on you and to relieve some of the pain, mainly in the form of medication.
#6 Rheumatoid Arthritis
This is an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation of the joints, skin, blood vessels, and even some organs. The disorder occurs when the immune system starts attacking the tissues of your body, mistaking them for a foreign body. The swollen joints can cause a lot of pain, and the inflammation of the spine and neck can be quite difficult to handle. It often comes in a sharp pain alongside general stiffness of the neck.
This tends to be caused by accidents or falls, so things like falling from a height (such as a ladder) or being knocked off a horse while out riding. The amount of pain that you experience, and the period of time it lasts, will depend on the cause of the trauma. Some accidents could take years to recover from, and others might only take a few days or weeks.
#8 Cervical Spondylosis
This is quite a general term for the wear and tear that occurs to your neck as you get older. It affects the spinal discs in your neck, and as the discs begin to dehydrate and shrink, signs of osteoarthritis begin to develop. This includes jagged projections along the outline of bones, which are also known as bone spurs. Most people over the age of 60 will develop cervical spondylosis at some stage, although many people do not suffer from any symptoms.
This is a painful illness that tends to spread discomfort throughout the body, causing the person who is suffering from it a lot of pain. One of the most commonly affected areas is the upper back, and this can become a central pain point for those who have fibromyalgia. However, it can also accumulate in the neck, leading to severe stiffness and the area being quite sore and tender.
This disease is defined by an inflammation of the membranes that surround your brain and spinal cord. It is a very serious condition, and if you think you may have it, you should see a doctor immediately. It tends to be a viral infection, but it can be spread through bacteria and fungus. The main symptoms include fever, severe neck pain and headaches, nausea and vomiting, lack of appetite, sensitivity to light, and an incredibly stiff/sore neck. Combined with the headaches and fever, it can be very difficult to move your head when you have this condition.
Chapter 6: How to Relieve Neck Pain
It’s easy for a pain in the back of the neck to get in the way and leave you feeling irritable. After all, neck pain is no laughing matter. However, this section gathers together some of the best ways for you to relieve neck pain and make your day that much more bearable.
#1 Heat Therapy
This can be a great way to rid yourself of pain and discomfort. Take a hot water bottle, or a heat pack, and apply it to the part of your neck that is in pain. Leave it there for a while, and you will start to feel relief as the heat works its magic. Some people do prefer cold packs for this, so make sure you try both out to see which one works best for you. Both packs can also help to reduce muscle spasms.
#2 Use a Low Pillow
While it can be lovely to pile up the pillows at night, too many can cause your neck to bend unnaturally, which can then lead to you waking up in the morning with a very stiff and painful neck. The best thing to do is to use one pillow that is low down and firm, so that it supports your head and neck comfortably. Try it out, and we are sure you will wake up feeling great!
#3 Keep Moving
While it can be difficult to do, you have to try and keep moving when your severe neck pain starts to play up. Some suggest using a collar, but it is important that you ignore this, and it can actually lead to even more stiffness. Don’t overdo it, but make sure you take the time to at least practice a few neck stretches so that you keep things moving.
#4 Stay Hydrated
The vertebrae in your spine require water to keep hydrated, something which is vital for them to function correctly and at their full capacity. It helps them to maintain disc height and alignment, and the amount of water in them will decrease as we age. When the discs start to dehydrate, we experience more neck pain, and so ensuring that you drink enough water means that the discs stay hydrated and you reduce your chance of suffering from severe neck pain.
Chapter 7: Treatment for Neck Pain
There are a number of treatments for neck pain, some of which involve painkillers, and others that use more natural remedies, so that there is something to suit everyone. Generally, treating your neck should be quite simple, but there are some severe cases that might require surgical treatment. Always consult with your doctor before you start any treatment courses.
Over the counter medicines are ideal for neck pain, as long as they are only taken for a short period of time. If your symptoms last more than a week, you should seek advice from your doctor instead. Aspirin and ibuprofen work exceptionally well when it comes to relieving pain and discomfort, so you can take it a few times a day (as per the instructions) to help make things a little easier for you. You can even get ibuprofen gel to rub into your neck for fast results.
#2 Natural Remedies
Of course, not everyone likes to take painkillers, and prefer to go the natural route. There are a number of herbal remedies that could help you to achieve a better level of relief and comfort than painkillers. It is important, however, to remember that everyone is different. Both supplements and natural medicines can be very beneficial, and if you are interested in trying them, you can speak to your doctor for a referral to a qualified professional in the field.
#3 Physical Therapy
This is one of the most highly recommended forms of treatment. It includes gentle exercises, acupuncture, and massages, each of which helps to relax the muscles in your neck and relieve tension – leaving you feeling more comfortable than before. As they are professionals, they understand how your body works and are able to hit all of the right spots to leave you feeling thoroughly relaxed as well as with massively reduced pain levels.
Chapter 8: Exercises for Neck Pain
Not all exercises have to be full-on, as demonstrated in the previous section in back pain, and doing a few gentle stretches can really benefit your neck. This segment takes you through our top picks, and provides links for safe practice where necessary. Remember to consult a doctor before you start any of these exercises.
#1 Neck Twists
For this exercise, you simply tense your neck muscles gently as you tilt your head up and down, and then left and right while gently twisting your neck. This exercise helps to strengthen your neck muscles, relieve discomfort, and also improve your range of movement to help prevent stiffness.
#2 Corner Stretch
To do this stretch, you need to stand approximately two feet back from the corner of the room, and you need to be facing said corner. Keep your feet together, with your forearms placed on each wall, and your elbows just above shoulder height. Next, lean in as far as possible without feeling any pain, and you should feel a stretch in the front of your shoulders and chest. Hold for between 30 seconds and one minute.
#3 Levator Scapula Stretch
These muscles are located on either side of the neck, and they can become quite tender where they attach to the shoulder blades. The levator scapulae stretch can be performed while sitting or standing. To start, lengthen the muscle by raising your elbow above your shoulder at the side to stretch. While in this position, rest your elbow against a door. This action will rotate the outside of the shoulder blade, as well as the inside of it, lengthening the muscle. Following this, turn the head away from the side that is stretching and bring the chin down, stretching the back of the neck. Place the fingers of your other hand on the top of the head and gently pull the head forward increasing the stretch slightly. Hold this for about 30 seconds to a minute.
Hopefully, this guide has helped you to understand more about back and neck pain, as well as the ways in which it can be treated. We are all likely to suffer from one of these at some point in our life, and so knowing how to handle chronic back pain and chronic neck pain can be very beneficial when it comes to relieving yourself from some of the discomforts you are experiencing. With the handy tips and tricks listed here, you will be on your way to a more comfortable daily life in no time at all.
What did you think of our guide to back and neck pain? Are there any parts you felt were particularly useful, or things that you felt should have been added? We love hearing from you, so make sure to leave us a message in the comments below.