According to the Baltimore Journal of Medicine, 60-80% of adults will experience back pain, and up to 70% of adults will experience neck pain. Unfortunately, these common aches and pains can cause a significant ache and pain in your quality of life. Anyone who has suffered from either neck or back pain knows how painful even simple tasks like driving or going for a walk can become when you’re dealing with ongoing issues in your spine and supporting muscles.
Symptoms of chronic neck pain
Let’s be clear — chronic neck pain is not neck pain that you woke up with one morning from sleeping in a weird position, and then it goes away by the next morning. Chronic neck pain often comes on gradually (though in some cases, it can be related to a fall or accident) and is usually caused by an underlying condition, such as:
- Muscle tension in the neck or shoulders
- TMJ pain
- A pinched nerve in the spine due to a spinal condition
In all of these scenarios, a nerve root is typically compressed in or near the neck, which can cause chronic neck pain, as well as the following symptoms:
- Pain or tingling in the arms or fingers
- Stabbing pain in the neck during movement
- Chronic headaches
- Limited neck mobility
- Blurred vision (seek immediate medical attention)
Left untreated neck pain can even lead to issues you might never expect, such as balance problems or trouble gripping objects. That’s because each of the nerve roots located in your upper vertebrae are connected to other parts of your body, from your biceps to each of your little fingers.
Symptoms of chronic back pain
Back pain and sciatica pain are closely related medical conditions. Many times, sciatica pain is the result of a medical back problem. The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the human body and consists of nerve roots in the lower back and runs through the buttock and down the back of each leg. Portions of this nerve branch out to the thigh, calf, foot, and toes. Sciatica nerve pain is often characterized by the following symptoms.
- Low back pain that radiates down the leg
- Leg pain with burning and tingling
- Numbness in the leg or feet
- Continual pain on one side of the buttock
- Sharp pain
- Trouble sitting and getting up
It’s important to note that sciatica is not a medical diagnosis in itself. It is actually a symptom of an underlying problem. And the root cause must be identified for effective treatment. Common back problems include:
- Degenerative disc disease – Disc degeneration is a natural process that often occurs as we age. But, for some people, it can occur young. One or more degenerated discs in the spine or lower back can irritate a nerve root and cause sciatica. This disease is diagnosed when a weakened disc is exposed. Bone spurs may also develop with disc degeneration and cause sciatica.
- Lumbar spinal stenosis – Lumbar spinal stenosis is caused by a gradual narrowing of the spinal canal. It’s also common in the aging process and typically affects those over 50. It can be a result of a bulging disc, enlarged facet joints, arthritis or an overgrowth of soft tissue. Whatever the cause, it can result in back pain and sciatica pain.
- Lumbar herniated disc – This condition occurs when the soft gel material of the disc leaks out and passes through the outer core. It irritates the sciatic nerve. Sciatica is the most common symptom of a herniated disc. It’s also known as bulging disc, slipped disc, ruptured disc or protruding disc.
- Spondylolisthesis – Spondylolisthesis occurs when a small stress fracture causes one vertebrae to slip forward on another. There’s then a disc space collapse. The nerve can get pinched and result in sciatica. Sciatica pain can range from mild to severe.
Treatment for Neck and Back Pain: Physical Therapy
Physical therapy for these conditions is often effective and usually has two components: passive and active. Passive physical therapy consists of ultrasound, TENS units, and heat and ice packs. Active physical therapy includes stretching exercises, back exercises, and low-impact aerobic conditioning. Physical therapists typically recommend 20 minutes of dynamic lumbar stabilization exercises per day. Core muscle strengthening is also important in the treatment of back pain. Low-impact aerobics are also important and include water therapy, biking, and walking.
Physical therapy is an important component of treating medical issues of the neck and back. When you meet with a physical therapist, there will be a full assessment. Tests will be done and an individualized treatment plan will be developed based on your goals. Your physical therapist is your coach who will help you eliminate pain, perform daily tasks and improve overall general health.
If you’re suffering from neck pain, sciatica pain or back pain, don’t wait any longer for relief. Our goal is for you to return safely to your previous activities with fewer symptoms and also with the knowledge to appropriately manage and prevent your condition from happening again. If you’re suffering from neck or back pain, contact us at Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, Mattawan, Plainwell, E. Kalamazoo, Schoolcraft & Portage, MI centers to set up a one-on-one consultation and full evaluation.