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Back & Neck Pain

What Is Back Pain: As you probably already know, back pain is a very common complaint. About three in four adults will experience back pain during their lifetime—and that number may very well rise, given our aging population and recent trend of obesity. Low back pain (pain in your lumbar spine) is the most common. Most back pain comes from sprains and strains caused by stressful movements: lifting something without using proper techniques or a sudden twisting motion are just two examples of how you can hurt your back.

If your back pain is caused by a muscle sprain or strain, that usually heals on its own—just give it time. Your recovery can also be helped along by modest medical attention, such as over-the-counter or prescription medications. You could also use heat or ice packs, or even get a massage, Sometimes, though, back pain is caused by a more severe spinal condition, such as a herniated disc or spondylosis. Depending on the severity of your pain and its cause, you may require more involved medical help, such as physical therapy or even surgery. But please keep this in mind: just because you have back pain doesn't mean you'll need serious medical attention or surgery. It does mean that you're in good company and that you have an array of treatment options to get you feeling better.
Symptoms of Back Pain: Back pain is its own symptom. However, there are various ways to feel back pain, and your symptoms depend on what is causing your pain and where it is affecting your spine. Your back pain may be acute or chronic. Acute pain lasts four to six weeks, but chronic pain is persistent, long-term pain—sometimes lasting throughout life. At times, people with chronic pain can have episodes of acute pain. Back pain may be sudden and sharp—or it may be dull. Pain may occur with movement, and it may even occur with coughing and sneezing.
You may also have numbness in your arms or legs. (Leg symptoms are often referred to as sciatica caused by a pinched nerve.) It's important to treat your back pain properly. Seek medical attention if your back pain persists—and seek immediate attention if you have back pain with any of the following emergency signs:

| Pain is getting significantly worse | Pain affects every day activities | Severe symptoms | Groin or leg weakness or numbness | Arm or hand weakness, tingling, or numbness | Loss of bowel or bladder control || Acid from the stomach moving upward | Cancer of the throat | Cleft palate or other problems with the palate | Conditions that damage the nerves that supply the muscles of the vocal cords | Laryngeal webs or clefts (a birth defect in whcih a thin layer of tissue is between the vocal cords) |  Noncancerous growths (polyps, nodules, cysts, granulomas, papillomas, or ulcers) on the vocal cords | Overuse of the vocal cords from screaming, constantly clearing the throat, or singing |

Causes: Because there are a variety of causes of back pain, it's vital to know the exact cause of your pain, and your doctor will help figure that out. You may not remember injuring your back—but your back certainly does, and the pain is trying to tell you something. Or you may not know that something is wrong with your spine until a stressful movement aggravates the condition. Some common causes of back pain include:
Aging: Ligaments thicken and discs dry out with age—that's just part of what happens to us as we grow older. These age-related changes in the spine may lead to disorders that create pressure on your spinal nerves—meaning that you'll have symptoms such as pain, numbness, or weakness. Degenerative disc disease is an example of an age-related spinal disorder. Over time, your discs can lose their normal structure and function. That is just wear and tear, but it can result in a bulging disc or a herniated disc and pain. Sometimes, the bulging or herniated disc can push on a nerve, causing pain that travels to another part of your body. For example, a herniated disc could push on a nerve in your low back and send a shooting pain down your leg (also known as sciatica). Pain that travels from the origin to another part of your body is called radiculopathy. You can experience cervical radiculopathy, which affects your arms mainly, or lumbar radiculopathy, which affects your legs.
Daily Life: Just getting through every day takes its toll on your body. Stress and emotional tension can cause muscles to tighten and contract, resulting in pain and stiffness. Since we carry most of our weight in our backs, that's where we can feel the end result of tense daily living: tight muscles and painful movements. Also, the way you're getting through your day could be the cause of your back pain. Poor posture—standing for long periods of time or sitting incorrectly—can cause back pain (so watch out while you're at the office). Low back pain is often associated with heavy physical work, lifting or forceful movement, bending or twisting, or awkward positions. If you don't use proper lifting techniques while hefting a box of books, for example, you can really hurt your back.  Also, a condition called sacroiliac joint dysfunction can cause back pain and make it difficult for you to do daily activities, such as sitting, standing and walking. Even healthy, normal activities can cause muscle sprains and strains, which can lead to back pain. Gardening, tennis, horseback riding, biking, and even golf can all potentially hurt your back.
Injuries and Accidents: You can fracture a spinal bone in a fall or a car accident. If you have osteoporosis, a condition that weakens your bones, you're much more prone to fracturing a bone. You can have a sports-related injury, such as pain caused by being tackled too many times in football. These are the sudden, unexpected causes of back pain that most likely require immediate medical attention.
Obesity: Being overweight puts pressure and stress on the back, especially the low back. Plus, carrying excess weight aggravates other health conditions such as osteoporosis (weak bones), osteoarthritis (joint pain), rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease), degenerative disc disease (described above in the aging section), spinal stenosis, and spondylolisthesis.
What is Neck Pain: During our lives, many of us will have neck pain, and most of us won't know exactly what caused it. In fact, neck pain can start from a whole range of causes. Maybe you slept funny and woke up with a crick that won't go away. You might've been rear-ended in your car and now you have whiplash. Perhaps you twisted it wrong one day in one of those high-intensity aerobic classes. Even though most of us will experience neck pain, we won't all feel it in the same way. Sometimes, it's just on one side of your neck; sometimes, pain shoots down your arms. A problem in your neck may even cause terrible headaches or dizziness. Symptoms may be gone in a few days, or you may have long-term pain that limits what you can do every day. No matter what's causing your neck pain, it hurts, and you're probably very eager to get rid of it. However, as you may guess since there are so many causes and symptoms of neck pain, there are many ways to treat it. You can use over-the-counter pain medication. Acupuncture is an option, as is massage. Most people with neck pain don't need surgery, but it may be best for you and your pain. So as you can tell, neck pain isn't quite as simple as "just" a pain in the neck, but by learning more about it, you'll be better able to deal with it.
Symptoms Of Neck Pain: To get the best treatment for your neck, it's important to recognize and understand the symptoms. With neck pain, you may have symptoms such as:

| Neck soreness on one or both sides | Burning pain | Tingling sensations | Stiffness | Pain around your shoulder blades | Pain, numbness, or weakness in your arm | Trouble swallowing, talking, writing, or walking | Headache | Dizziness | Nausea | Blurred vision | Fever | Night sweats | Tiredness | Unintentional weight loss |

You must treat your neck pain properly. Seek medical attention if your pain or related symptoms persists for more than a few days—and seek immediate attention if you have neck pain with any of the following emergency signs:

| High fever | Sensitivity to light | Irritability | Severe tenderness with neck movement | Numbness, weakness, and/or tingling | You have recently sustained a head or neck injury |

Causes Of Neck Pain: You need to know what's causing your neck pain because that impacts your treatment options. As you probably know, there are a lot of ways to experience neck pain. It may be mild or severe, numbing or burning, in your neck or in your hand. There's a variety of symptoms because there's a variety of causes of neck pain. A few common causes are:
Daily Life: Just getting through every day takes its toll on your body — you most likely know that from first-hand experience. Stress and emotional tension can cause muscles to tighten and contract, resulting in pain and stiffness. You can sleep wrong and wake up with a crick in your neck. You can sit too long at your desk, staring at your computer, and give yourself a stiff neck. Also, the way you're living could be causing your neck pain. Poor posture, obesity, and weak abdominal muscles often disrupt the spine's balance, causing your neck to bend uncomfortably to compensate. Even healthy, normal activities can cause neck sprains and strains, which can lead to pain. Gardening, tennis, a friendly game of touch football, and even golf can all potentially hurt your neck.
Growing Older: Age-related disorders such as osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, and degenerative disc disease directly affect the cervical spine. Degenerative disc disease (DDD) can cause the intervertebral discs to become less hydrated, and they lose their flexibility, elasticity, and shock-absorbing abilities. And over time, you may develop a bulging disc or a herniated disc. With both bulging and herniated discs, the disc material can press on nerve roots, causing neck pain that may run into the arm, tingling, and/or numbness. Osteoarthritis is a common joint disorder that causes progressive deterioration of cartilage. Without the cartilage, your bones rub together. The body reacts by forming bone spurs (osteophytes), a self-protection step. However, the bone spurs can press on your nerves, causing neck pain. Spinal stenosis causes the small nerve passageways between the vertebrae to narrow, which can compresses and trap the spinal cord and/or spinal nerve roots. Stenosis may cause neck, shoulder, and arm pain and numbness when these nerves are unable to function normally.
Injury and Accidents: That's right—whiplash. A sudden forced movement of the head or neck in any direction and the resulting "rebound" of the head or neck in the opposite direction is known as whiplash. The sudden "whipping" motion causes injury to the surrounding and supporting tissues of your neck and head. Muscles react by tightening and contracting, creating muscle fatigue that results in pain and stiffness. Severe whiplash can also involve injury to the intervertebral discs, joints, ligaments, muscles, and nerve roots. Car accidents are the most common cause of whiplash. If you've had a head injury, more than likely, your neck has been affected, too, even if you don't feel it right away. It's wise to seek medical attention immediately.
Other Disorders: Prolonged pain and/or decreased function of your brain, spinal cord, muscles, or nerves may be an indication of something more serious. Seek medical attention immediately because occasionally, these symptoms may be the result of a spinal infection, spinal cord compression, spinal tumor, fracture, or another disorder.
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