Spine: Neck and Back
Neck pain, or a stiff neck, involves discomfort and possibly soreness in the neck. Often it becomes painful to turn the head. The majority of neck pain cases are the result of muscle strain in the neck, often brought on by poor posture, awkward sleep positions or a jarring movement. If the nerves are affected, you may experience tingling, numbness or a weakening of the neck, arm or hand. More serious causes of neck pain include falls, accidents, problems in the spinal canal or vertebrae and fibromyalgia.
In most cases, the neck pain should go away after several days of reduced activity, use of over-the-counter pain relievers and applications of heat and ice. If it is not improving, your doctor can perform an examination of the area to determine whether there is an underlying medical condition causing the discomfort. Seek medical attention immediately if the neck pain is accompanied by a headache and fever, as those symptoms together may indicate a meningitis infection.
During your appointment, your doctor will take a medical history and ask you various questions about the specifics of the neck pain you are feeling. A physical examination of the neck and surrounding area will also take place in order to achieve a diagnosis of the problem. Due to the wide range of causes for neck pain, further testing including X-rays, a CT scan or MRI imaging or a blood test may be required.
Some of the more potentially serious conditions that may affect the neck region (otherwise known as the cervical spine) and be responsible for neck pain are:
- Herniated Disc and Degeneration
- Cervical Spine Stenosis
- Cervical Trauma
- Cervical Vertebral Tumors
- Cervical Deformity
- Spinal Infections
The spine is the main support for the human body and provides protection for the spinal cord. It is comprised of 33 vertebrae that permit you to maintain an upright position as well as bend. There are three regions of the spine: the cervical or neck area, the thoracic or chest area and the lumbar or lower back area. The sacral and coccyx areas make up the bottom of the spine.
About 80% of adults will suffer significant back pain at some time in their lives due to an injury at work, at home or at play. Back pain and medical spine problems can be caused by:
- Mechanical difficulties when you move your spine in a specific manner
- Injuries such as a sprain or fracture
- Conditions such as arthritis or scoliosis
- Infections or tumors
Doctors generally diagnose spine problems by:
- Physical examination
- Diagnostic tests (such as x-rays, bone scan, CAT scan, MRI, arthroscopy, and biopsy)
- Medical History
Conservative forms of treatment will generally be the first line of defense against most forms of back pain. This may include medication to reduce pain, such as aspirin and acetaminophen, or medication to reduce swelling and inflammation, such as ibuprofen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Physical therapy is often effective, with patients practicing exercises to improve flexibility and strength. In addition, lifestyle changes may be recommended, including those that will lead to the maintenance of a healthy body weight.
If the back pain is unresponsive to conservative treatments or has been brought on by a more serious condition, surgery may be recommended. Spine surgery involves several different procedures that target affected vertebrae within the spine. These procedures are effective in treating a wide range of spinal conditions, including diseases, degeneration, injuries and more. Some of the conditions treated with spine surgery include:
- Degenerative disc disease
- Spinal stenosis
- Herniated disc
- Lower back pain