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What To Do For Neck And Back Pain

Sleep On Your Back If You Can

Causes of Back and Neck Pain

In general, sleeping on your back is the best position to let your entire spine rest comfortably. Some people with neck problems find it helps to sleep on their back and place a pillow under each arm, with the idea that supporting each arm takes strain off the neck.

Some people with spinal arthritis or stenosis may find that sleeping at a slight incline is easier, so they add a foam wedge pillow to their bed and/or switch to an adjustable bed.

Tips To Relieve Headache With Neck Pain

Headache with neck pain can be a double whammy that makes it difficult to move the head and/or concentrate. While headaches can cause the muscles in your neck to become stiff and painful, a problem in your neck, such as irritated nerves, can also cause headaches. Common conditions where you may experience headache and neck pain together are:

Several conditions can cause neck pain and headache to occur together. ReadWhat Is Causing My Neck Pain and Headache?

Here are 11 tips to help relieve headache and neck pain without medication. Just remember to stop a treatment if it makes your pain worse.

  • Apply firm pressure. Applying compression on the temples, forehead, and/or back of the neck provide may provide relief from pain caused by tension headaches or migraines.1 This pressure may be applied with your fingertips, hands, or by wrapping a handkerchief around your head.
  • Try heat therapy. In some people, headaches may be caused by constriction of blood vessels, and can be relieved by placing a heat pack on the back of the neck. Taking a hot shower may also help in relieving pain while also providing a relaxed feeling. When applying heat therapy, limit applications to 15 minutes with at least 2 hours of rest in between to prevent skin damage.

    See How to Apply Heat Therapy

  • See Massage Therapy for Chronic Stiff Neck

  • Surgery For Spinal Arthritis

    Surgery may be recommended for spinal arthritis if other treatments dont sufficiently relieve pain. The goals of the surgery may include:

    • Stabilizing the spine by fusing several segments together in a procedure called spinal fusion

    These surgeries can be performed as open procedures or with a minimally invasive approach. There are pros and cons to each method. The surgeon will review and discuss the options before the operation.

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    First Steps To Relieve Neck Pain

    The causes of routine strain-and-sprain neck pain vary. If you wake up with a “crick” in your neck, it’s probably the sharp muscle contractions known as spasms, caused by a muscle strain. A sprain, in contrast, happens in ligamentsthe tough tissues that connect bones together. Alternatively, a tendonthe tissue that attaches muscles to bonesmay become inflamed, causing tendinitis. Basic self-help takes care of most routine neck pain flare-ups:

    • Use cold to numb the early acute pain and reduce inflammation.
    • Take over-the-counter pain relievers to control mild to moderate pain. These include acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen , naproxen , or aspirin.
    • Use a neck collar for short periods to rest the painful muscles and tissues and ease your discomfort. “Collars have a bad reputation from people overusing them and getting weak muscles, but used a few hours here and there they can be very useful,” Dr. Shmerling says.
    • Apply heateither with a heating pad or by using a warm whirlpool bath if one is availableafter a day or two, once the acute pain calms down.

    Should you go to a chiropractor to get your neck “cracked”? Dr. Shmerling counsels against sudden, strenuous manipulation of the neck. “It may be fine for low back pain, but avoid it for neck pain,” he says.

    When Should I See My Doctor

    Wake up with back or neck pain? Heres what to do!

    You should see a doctor if:

    • the pain is getting worse
    • the pain doesnt ease up in a week or so
    • you have numbness, tingling or pins and needles in your arms or legs
    • you start having difficulties with your bladder or bowel
    • you have a fever as well as neck pain

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    Understanding Back And Neck Pain

    What is back and neck pain?

    Back pain can range from a mild, dull, annoying ache, to persistent, severe, disabling pain. Pain in your back can limit your ability to move. Pain could travel down your legs and even could be associated with weakness / numbness.

    Neck pain occurs in the area of the cervical vertebrae in your neck and sometimes cold be related to disc herniations and arthritis. When this arthritis accumulates it can develop spinal stenosis with cervical cord compression resulting in weakness, numbness, and difficulty with balance.

    What causes back and neck pain?

    Even with today’s technology, the exact cause of back and neck pain is hard to find. In most cases, back and neck pain may have many different causes. They include:

    • Overuse, strenuous activity, or improper use, such as repetitive or heavy lifting.
    • Trauma, injury, or fractures.
    • Breakdown of vertebrae, often caused by stresses on the muscles and ligaments that support your spine, or the effects of aging.
    • Infection.
    • Abnormal growth, such as a tumor or bone spur.
    • Obesity. This put extra weight on your spine, and pressure on your disks.
    • Poor muscle tone.
    • Joint problems, such as arthritis.
    • Smoking.
    • Slipped disk and pinched nerve.
    • Osteoporosis and compression fractures.
    • Problems of your vertebrae and bones that you were born with .
    • Scoliosis.

    What are the symptoms of back and neck pain?

    Symptoms linked to back pain may include:

    Symptoms linked to neck pain can be:

    How are back and neck pain diagnosed?

    The Source Of Neck And Shoulder Pain

    Its important to understand that feeling discomfort in the neck or shoulder doesnt necessarily mean that the source of pain itself stems from that same region. Neck pain could be caused by a shoulder impingement, and pain in the shoulder could be stemming from the neck. In fact, tension in either area could be sparked by an injury or alignment issue in the back of the pelvis, or even from as low down as the ankles.

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    This is because the entire back side of the body is connected via a thin webbing of connective tissue , known as the superficial back line. Running from your forehead up and over the crown of the head, down the length of the spine and the back of the legs to the bottom of your feet, this fascial line is responsible for extending the body and keeping you in an upright position.

    Yet because this fascia is all connected, a dysfunction anywhere in the body along this line could lead to pain in another area. For example, incorrect pelvic positioning can lead to misalignment in the low back, which can continue up the thoracic spine, affecting the position and stability of the shoulder, and ultimately causing neck pain .

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    Stretches To Help A Stiff Neck

    The key to relief for a stiff neck is proper stretching and manipulation, Dr. Bang says. Doing slow range-of-motion exercises, up and down, side to side, and from ear to ear, can help to gently stretch the neck muscles. Certain yoga poses can also help ease stiffness.

    Here are some other specific stretches you can try at your desk or in the car that may help you avoid a stiff neck:

    • Roll your shoulders backwards and down 10 times.
    • Squeeze your shoulder blades together 10 times.
    • Push your head backwards into your car head rest or hands and hold for 30 seconds.
    • Bring your ear to your shoulder 10 times on each side.

    What Are Neck Pain Symptoms

    How to stop neck, shoulder and upper back pain

    Other than neck pain itself, you may notice other symptoms that accompany the pain. Some of the more common symptoms of neck pain include:

    • Neck muscle stiffness: Tight muscles in the back of the head or a muscle knot in the neck. This may spread to your shoulders, upper back and arms.
    • Headache: Experiencing headaches in the occipital region is very common but can also extend to the top of the head, causing “tension” headaches from muscle tightness.
    • Pain and/or weakness that shoots down the arm: This may be caused by muscle fatigue or nerve compression. Very often along specific nerve roots .
    • Loss of neck mobility: Inability to turn your head and neck easily.
    • Paraesthesias: A sensation of numbness and/or tingling in the arms, most often caused by nerve compression at the level of the spine, or as the branching nerves pass through tight, inflamed muscles.

    If your neck pain is caused by nerve compression, you may experience the following symptoms:

    • Weakness in the shoulder, arm or hand
    • A feeling of numbness or pins and needles in arm, fingers or hand
    • Sharp, burning pain near the pinched nerve that radiates outward

    Some conditions, such as coronary artery disease or even lung tumors may mimic these conditions, notes Stewart G. Eidelson, MD. It is best to have a skilled physician perform a thorough physical examination when the symptoms described are present, he says.

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    Spinal Arthritis May Contribute To Other Issues In The Spine

    Spinal arthritis may cause bone spurs overgrowths on the edges of the bones. In the spine, bone spurs particularly affect facet joints, making them grow larger. This condition is called facet joint hypertrophy. Although bone spurs on their own are not harmful, they may narrow the passages for the spinal cord and the nerves exiting the spine. This may lead to two painful conditions:

    • Spinal stenosis compression of the spinal cord inside the spinal canal

    • Radiculopathy pinching of the peripheral nerves as they exit the spine

    Ankylosing spondylitis may also cause additional problems such as:

    • Stress fractures in places where new bone has formed

    • Collapsed vertebrae

    • A spinal deformity called kyphosis

    The Best Pillows For Neck Pain

    Read our top picks to learn more about each ones materials and unique qualities. While your sleep setup might not be the original root of your neck pain, it can play an important role in making it better or worse. In the buyers guide section, well break down the reasons you could be experiencing neck pain and how your pillow can help. Well take a deeper look at how body position and pillow construction can enhance comfort, and well teach you what to look for when shopping for a pillow for neck pain.

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    Etiology Of Neck And Back Pain

    Most neck and back pain is caused by disorders of spinal structures. Muscle pain is a common symptom and is typically caused by irritation of the deeper muscles by the dorsal rami of the spinal nerve and in the more superficial muscles from a local reaction to the spine injury. Strains are very rare in the cervical and lumbar spine. Fibromyalgia Fibromyalgia Fibromyalgia is a common, incompletely understood nonarticular disorder characterized by generalized aching widespread tenderness of muscles, areas around tendon insertions… read more can coexist with neck and back pain but is not more likely to cause isolated pain in the neck or back. Occasionally, pain is referred from extraspinal disorders Serious uncommon causes Neck pain and back pain are among the most common reasons for physician visits. This discussion covers neck pain involving the posterior neck and low… read more . Some uncommon causesspinal and extraspinalare serious.

    Most spinal disorders result from

    • Mechanical problems

    Most pain caused by mechanical spine disorders is caused by

    • Disk pain

    • Nerve root pain

    • of the joints

    The following are the most common causes of neck and low back pain.

    All of these disorders also can be present without causing pain.

    Serious causes may require timely treatment to prevent disability or death.

    Serious extraspinal disorders include the following:

    Serious spinal disorders include the following:

    • Infections

    • Primary tumors

    • Metastatic vertebral tumors

    First A Review Of Spine

    Do you have Low Back or Neck Pain?

    Because back and neck pain are so common, you may downplay your symptoms. But if you develop any of the following emergency signs, you should see a doctorimmediately:

    • Loss of bowel and/or bladder function
    • Worsening or disabling spine pain, such as in the neck, mid back, low back
    • Arm and/or leg weakness, pain, numbness, or tingling
    • Saddle anesthesia
    • Difficulty with balance or walking
    • Difficulty controlling hands for fine motor control

    Its also important to see a doctor if youve sustained a head or other bodily injury, such as may result from a car crash or sports accident. Even if you think your injury is minor and/or didnt involve your spine, a doctors evaluation can determine if youve sustained a spinal injury.

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    Preventing And Living With Neck Pain

    While avoiding neck pain isnt always possible, you can keep your neck muscles strain- and stress-free by creating healthy habits. Instead of in front of a computer all day, for example, take stretch breaks throughout the day.

    If your neck pain feels worse at the end of each day, consider your posture. Are you sitting up straight? Sitting in your chair with your feet flat on the floor?

    If your neck pain feels worse in the morning, check your sleep position and pillow. Use a pillow that supports your neck and keeps it straight. Avoid sleeping on your stomach with your neck twisted, if possible.

    What if you go to sleep feeling fine and wake up with neck pain? Daily life can take its toll on your neck. If you wake up with neck pain, the best thing to do is give your body time to heal on its own. To get through the day without letting the pain interfere with your normal activities, you have a few options.

    • Gently stretch your neck: the Spine Universe Exercise Center offers a video with 3 neck stretches and exercises to help relieve a stiff neck.
    • Take over-the-counter pain medications, such as Tylenol or Advil.
    • Alternate between heat and ice treatments on your neck: 20 minutes of heat followed by 20 minutes of ice should help relieve the pain and expedite the healing process.
    • Rest: take a few days off from any strenuous activities that aggravate your symptoms, such as sports and heavy lifting.

    Already dealing with neck pain?

    How Are Back And Neck Pain Managed

    Acute back pain usually gets better without special treatment. Using acetaminophen or ibuprofen will decrease pain and help you rest. Surgery and special exercises are generally not used with acute pain.

    For severe, disabling, or chronic back and neck pain, rehabilitation programs can be designed to meet your needs. The type of program will depend on the type and severity of your pain, injury, or disease. Active involvement of the patient and family is vital to the success of rehabilitation programs.

    The goal of back and neck rehabilitation is to help you manage disabling pain, return to your highest level of functioning and independence possible, while improving your overall quality of life. The focus of rehabilitation is on relieving pain and improving mobility .

    To help reach these goals, back and neck rehabilitation programs may include the following:

    • Exercise programs to improve range of motion, increase muscle strength, improve flexibility and mobility, and increase endurance

    • Help with obtaining assistive devices that promote independence

    • Patient and family education and counseling

    • Pain management techniques

    • Gait and movement retraining

    • Stress management

    • Ergonomic assessments and work-related injury prevention programs

    • Vocational counseling

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    Genetic And Congenital Conditions

    Genetic and congenital causes are also possible. One examples of a congenital spine condition is spina bifida. Scheuermann’s kyphosis, a deformity that affects some teen boys, is an example of a genetic spinal condition.

    Scoliosis, which has some genetic underpinnings, can also cause back and neck pain.

    Osteoarthritis Of The Spine

    Upper Neck Pain or Back Pain? Simple stretches for instant relief [UPDATED VIDEO]

    Osteoarthritis is the most common form of spinal arthritis. It usually affects the lower back and develops through wear and tear. As the cartilage between the joints slowly breaks down, it leads to inflammation and pain. Because the pain is from mechanical damage, it is typically more noticeable when you bend or twist your back. Past back injuries may also contribute to the development of degenerative arthritis of the spine.

    Osteoarthritis of the spine usually affects the facet joints between the vertebrae. It is also known as facet joint arthritis, facet joint syndrome and facet disease. In some cases, degeneration of the spinal discs may contribute to facet joint arthritis. As discs between the vertebrae become thinner, more pressure is transferred to the facet joints. This leads to more friction and more damage to the cartilage.

    When these degenerative changes occur in the neck, this condition is called cervical spondylosis. Arthritis in the neck doesnt always cause pain, and many people have no noticeable symptoms.

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    Other Tips For Neck Pain Sufferers

    In addition to choosing the right pillow, you can reduce neck pain through lifestyle changes like adopting proper posture, taking stretching breaks, and generally being more active. People who suffer from neck pain should avoid shoulder bags, slouching, and long periods of sitting at the computer.

    • Choose the Right Mattress: Your bodys overall position is influenced not only by your pillow, but also your mattress. Plusher mattresses allow your body to sink down further, meaning youll need a lower-loft pillow. The opposite holds true for firmer mattresses, which will require a higher pillow to maintain proper alignment of the neck and spine.
    • Engage in Physical Therapy: From daily habits to more serious regimens, there are plenty of exercises you can do to relax your neck muscles and relieve strain on the neck, shoulders, and upper back. A certified massage therapist or chiropractor may also be able to help. Always consult a health professional before starting any kind of treatment.
    • Use Ice or Heat: Many neck pain sufferers receive instant relief from a hot or cold compress, or from taking a warm shower. This may not cure your neck problems, but it can be a helpful short term solution.


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