6 Common Causes of Back and Neck Pain

Issues with neck and back pain are pervasive problems. Of adults, 60%-80% experience back pain during their lives, and 20%-70% experience neck pain, both of which can interfere with your daily activities and lead to disability if not treated.

At Santa Cruz Osteopathic in Capitola, California, osteopathic physician Dr. Richard Bernstein uses cutting-edge integrative care to give you long-term relief from your back and neck pain. Here’s what he wants you to know about some of the most common causes of back and neck pain.

Your spine at work

Your spine runs all the way from the base of your skull to your tailbone. It’s strong and stiff enough to let you stand up straight, yet pliable enough so you can bend, flex, and twist. It’s made up of 24 interlocking bony vertebrae, each separated by a soft intervertebral disc that acts as a shock absorber when you move. The outer part of the disc is firm, while the inner material is more gel-like.

The vertebrae form the spinal column, which serves as protection for the spinal canal. Sensory and motor nerves run through the canal, exiting the spine at prescribed places and traveling to peripheral regions like the arms and legs.

Each spinal joint is surrounded by cartilage that protects and cushions it, but wear-and-tear from use over time can destroy it, leading to pain and other complications.

6 common causes of back and neck pain

Back and neck pain can stem from a wide variety of causes; here are six of the most common ones.

1. Degenerative disc disease (DDD)

DDD is actually something of a misnomer, as it’s not a disease at all. It’s a condition where the spinal discs wear down or dry out over time, leaving vertebrae to painfully rub against one another. While it can occur anywhere along the spine, it’s most common in the cervical (neck) or lumbar (lower back) regions. Symptoms include pain, loss of flexibility, back stiffness, radiating pain, and pain that’s worse with extended periods of sitting

2. Bulging and herniated discs

A bulging disc occurs when the intervertebral discs become compressed and protrude from their normal position. The most common cause of bulging discs is the wear-and-tear caused by aging. If the protrusion continues, the outer shell can rupture and spill out the soft inner contents — a herniated disc. Because herniated disks press on sensitive nerve roots in the spinal canal, they can lead to pain, numbness, and mobility issues.

3. Sciatica

A spinal condition of the lumbar region, sciatica is probably one of the best-known causes of back pain. It most commonly occurs when a herniated disc, bone spur, or narrowing of the spine between the L4-L5 vertebrae impinges on the sciatic nerve, which exits the spine and branches from the lower back into the hips and buttocks and down the outside of each leg. The inflammation, pain, tingling, and possible numbness usually affects only one side of the body.

While the pain can be severe, most cases of sciatica resolve with conservative treatment in a few weeks.

4. Cervical radiculopathy

Cervical radiculopathy results from damage to a spinal nerve in the neck or a change in the way the nerve works because the root is compressed. Pain, tingling, and numbness radiate from the nerve root all the way down the length of the nerve, often into the hand. The damage can come from DDD, a ruptured disc, arthritis in the spinal joints, or injuries to the area. The most prominent form of lumbar radiculopathy is sciatica.

5. Spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal column, which can cause impingement on the nerves running through it. Its primary symptoms are inflammation, irritation, and pain. It’s most often seen in patients aged over 50 years and due to the gradual wear-and-tear seen in aging, but it can also be caused by calcification (thickening) of the ligaments supporting the spine, enlarged bones and joints, and bone spurs that develop on the vertebrae that compress the nerve roots.

6. Facet joint syndrome

Joints connect two or more bones in your body and function to promote motion. In your spine, the joints connecting each of the vertebrae are called facet joints. Their job is to promote healthy movement and, along with the intervertebral disc, provide stability for motion. The effects of aging and/or traumatic injury can damage the facet joints and lead to facet joint syndrome. The facet joints in the lumbar spine are the most susceptible, as that part of the spine bears the most weight and experiences the greatest strain.

If you’re dealing with back or neck pain and need relief, give Santa Cruz Osteopathic a call at 

831-464-1605, or book your consultation online with Dr. Bernstein today.

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