Writer / Dr. Nathan Prahlow, Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Physician at IU Health West Hospital
Back and neck pain seems to be a part of everyday life. It can originate from a variety of causes including sprains and fractures, dislocations, stress from overuse, obesity, infections, and disorders present at birth (congenital). It can cause mild to debilitating discomfort that impacts your ability to move or use your arms and legs. Determining the cause of the pain and finding the right treatment option can help you get back to your normal activities.
A physician can help you determine the cause of the pain.
Your spine has five sections of vertebrae – the neck or cervical spine, the mid-back or thoracic spine, the lower back or lumbar spine, the base of the spine or sacrum, and the tailbone or coccyx. Pain generated from each area can have different causes. Some of the conditions that cause pain in these areas include muscle or ligament strain, disc herniation and degenerative disc disease, sciatica, spinal stenosis, scoliosis, ankylosing spondylitis, spinal (or even some brain) tumors, torticollis and whiplash. To treat your back and neck pain, your physician must first determine the cause. They begin by using a combination of your medical history, a physical examination and basic diagnostic tests like X-rays. Once your physician determines the origin of your discomfort, they can work with you to develop the best treatment plan to address your specific condition and pain. This will often begin with physical therapy and may include medications.
Testing may be necessary.
Depending on your progress, your physician or neurosurgeon may use a variety of advanced tests to further look at your back and neck to diagnose the source of your ache. These may include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans. Sometimes even more specialized tests may be obtained to better understand your condition, such as an electromyogram (EMG) to study nerve and muscle function, a myelogram to study your spinal cord, and nerve blocks to identify generators in the spine.
There are several treatment options.
Your physician may prescribe a variety of medicines to reduce pain and inflammation of your spinal region. These can be taken orally, intravenously or by one of several management techniques. Physical and occupational therapy are utilized to restore you to pain-free movements and to strengthen your muscles. However, if regular medicines and physical therapy do not improve your pain, your physician may prescribe more advanced pain management techniques. These include steroid injections, EMG-guided botulinum injections, and even implanted spinal cord stimulators and pain pumps. Surgery may also be an option if recommended by your physician.
If you suffer from persistent back or neck pain, call your physician to learn about your options.