How Back Pain and Neck Pain are Related
Neck and back pain are very common complaints. Both are typically caused by something happening with the spine or the muscles.
Did you know that both of these are connected, and therefore, connects back and neck pain?
Many people who have one will have the other (back or neck pain). The good news is that working to alleviate one will also help to alleviate the other.
Conditions and Injuries that Affect Both the Neck and the Back
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition and the most common condition to affect the joints. This includes the joints throughout the spine. Pain and stiffness are the most common back and neck issues associated with osteoarthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is another type of arthritis that can cause both neck and back pain. This is caused by an autoimmune response. The joints become severely inflamed and painful. The joints in the neck and back can be affected.
Lupus can cause muscle inflammation. This muscles in the back can become stiff and go into spasm. While it is rare, inflammation of the spinal cord can also occur with lupus, causing pain. Lupus has to be medically treated.
Degenerative disc disease is a condition characterized by a spinal disc being compromised. This can be a disc in the neck, or the area of the spine spanning the back. This is a rather common condition that tends to start occurring around ages 30 to 50. After a person passes age 60, this is actually no longer considered a disease, but a normal part of aging.
Spinal stenosis is a condition in which the spinal canal is narrowed. This can affect the neck and mid-back. Regardless of where the narrowing occurs, it is possible to experience pain throughout the entire back.
Strains and sprains mean that muscles, ligaments or tendons were overstretched or torn. Pain can be rather widespread from each of these. For example, if a sprain occurs in the neck, the pain can sometimes radiate down the arms and throughout the back. This is especially true if a large muscle is sprained. A strain can have a very similar effect.
A herniated disc can occur anywhere throughout the spine. The lower lumbar part of the spine is the most common site for this issue. However, the cervical and thoracic regions can also be affected. A herniated disc anywhere can cause radiating pain. In most cases, this is seen by the pain radiating to a limb. However, in some cases, the pain can radiate throughout the back. For example, a herniated thoracic disc (most uncommon place for a herniation) may cause pain to radiate up into the neck or down into the lumbar spine.
Pinched nerves, like herniated discs, can occur anywhere in the spine. These are most often seen in the neck and lower lumbar spine. Radiating pain is a very common occurrence with pinched nerves. The radiation most often affects the limbs, but some people do notice pain in other areas of their back or neck when they have a pinched nerve.
Whiplash is exclusive to the neck, but the pain that happens with this condition can sometimes be more widespread than just the neck. Most commonly, soreness and stiffness in the upper back can result along with it. The muscles in the upper back and neck work together, so when one is badly injured, the other can become painful too, and in some cases, also injured.
Understanding Back and Neck Anatomy
The back is made up of several muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves and bones. If any one of these are injured or falls victim to disease, it can cause pain. Some of the primary sources of pain that can affect both the neck and the back include:
- Irritation of the smaller spinal nerves
- Injured ligaments, bones or joints
- Irritation of the large nerves that extend to the arms and legs
- Strain of the large paired back muscles
- The disc space itself
With the above-listed issues, it is not uncommon to experience both neck and back pain simultaneously due to how connected the anatomy is. For example, a pinched nerve in the neck can cause leg pain depending on which nerve is pinched. When a leg is painful, walking gait is shifted, which can cause lower back pain.
Another example is a strain of the large paired back muscles. These muscles span the back and can be attached to muscles of the neck. So, a strain, depending on which exact muscles are involved, can cause widespread pain affecting the neck and whole back.
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