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What Causes Neck and Low Back Pain?

Written by
Dr. Ignacio Antanio Magana
and medically reviewed by iCliniq medical review team.

Published on Sep 12, 2014 and last reviewed on Feb 21, 2019   -  5 min read


Understanding the mechanism of neck or low back pain by both the patient and the treating doctor is essential in establishing an accurate diagnosis and effectively managing the condition.

What Causes Neck and Low Back Pain?

Pain in the neck or back can severely limit one's ability to function in everyday life and often causes great anxiety that a serious threatening condition may have arrived. Fortunately for the vast majority of those afflicted, no surgery will be necessary usually and there is often a good recovery with conservative measures.

The patient and doctor must work together in understanding the mechanism of the pain affecting the patient to effect the best treatment plan. A detailed history of any event associated with onset, where exactly the pain is located, where does it radiate, what makes it worse or better, any preexisting health problems, and any other constitution symptoms is needed to make an accurate diagnosis. A thorough clinical examination to identify any abnormalities in neurological function or signs of nerve root compression can separate routine benign conditions from those putting the nervous system in peril.

A history of progressive pain unrelieved with rest or worse at night, fever, weight loss, previous diagnosis of cancer, immune compromise, tuberculosis, bacterial infection, trauma, osteoporosis, advanced age, weakness or numbness, loss of bladder or bowel control, and/or loss of erection are among the symptoms that may immediately point to a serious condition needing imaging investigation and other testing.

The intensity or severity of the pain itself is not often a useful indicator of the diagnosis.

Generally speaking, there are three different types of pain associated with spine pain. They are:

Mechanical Spine Pain:


Radiculopathy and Myelopathy:

Following a thorough history and physical examination, which does not elucidate any warning signs or neurological involvement most adult patients can safely be treated conservatively for at least a month before undergoing expensive imaging such as an MRI. However, it should be noted that in regions where tuberculosis is endemic it may be wise to go for an x-ray of the spine and an ESR (Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate), which together approach a 90 percent effective low-cost screening for tuberculosis of the spine.

Patients with warning signs in the history or clinical evidence of neurological compromise can consult a neurosurgeon online -->

Frequently Asked Questions


How to Get Relieved From Neck and Back Pain?

To get relieved from neck and back pain, you can try:
- Applying ice to the area where there is pain.
- Taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen.
- Taking rest from sports activities and heavy lifting.
- Exercising your neck every day.
- Using good posture while sleeping.


Are My Lower Back and Neck Pain Correlated?

Lower back pain and neck pain are correlated even if they are present without the other. The connection between the lower back and neck is such that one's misalignment will always affect the other.


Why Do I Have Pain in My Neck and Back?

The definite cause of neck and back pain is hard to determine. In most cases, it is due to strenuous exercise, overuse, improper use such as repetitive heavy lifting, trauma, fractures, injury, or poor posture. The muscles, bones, and ligaments in the neck support the head and help with motion. When these have inflammation, abnormalities, and injury, they can cause stiffness in the neck or back pain.


Can Drinking Water Relieve Neck Pain?

Drinking water during the daytime can keep you hydrated and will prevent further degeneration of the cervical discs. Therefore, staying hydrated will help to prevent and relieve pain in the neck.


How to Sleep When I Have Neck or Shoulder Pain?

Sleeping on your back or side can help you keep the stress off from the neck and manage neck pain. Avoid sleeping on your back because it can put your neck at an awkward angle and may worsen the pain.


What Is the Best Therapy for Back and Neck Pain?

To promote healing and relieve pain in the neck and back, one can use over-the-counter medications such as Ketoprofen, Naproxen Sodium, and Aspirin. These nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can effectively reduce pain and inflammation.


What Is the Initial Treatment for Neck Pain?

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the initial treatment given for neck pain. These drugs work by reducing inflammation.


What Is the Quick Remedy to Get Relieved From Lower Back Pain?

The quick remedy to get relieved from lower back pain include:
- Using heat and cold where cold can provide a numbing effect and heat can relieve stiffness or ache.
- Exercise.
- Pain relief cream.
- Stretch.
- Managing or reducing stress.
- Applying Arnica (a homeopathic cream and gel) to reduce pain.
- Switch shoes.
- Workstation changes to avoid improper posture while working.
- Having enough sleep.


How to Identify Whether My Back Pain Is Muscular?

Your back pain can be muscular if you have the following symptoms:
- Pain in the back radiating to the buttocks but not transmitting to the legs.
- Spasm or muscle cramps in the back.
- Trouble while bending or walking.
- Back hurting more on movement and lighter on rest.
- Difficulty in standing upright.


How to Know Whether the Back Pain Is Severe?

- Sharp stabbing pain.
- Persistent fever.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Blood in stools and urine.
- Progressive numbness and weakness in legs.
- The sensation of tingling, pins, or needles.
- Pain at night.
- Sexual dysfunction.
- Balance problem.
- Loss of bladder or bowel control.
- Swollen inflamed tissues.
- Sensitive to touch.
- Gradual worsening of pain despite relative rest.
- Pain not relieved or worsened by different positions.


How to Know if My Back Pain Is Related to the Heart?

Chest pain and back pain are the most common warning signs of a heart attack. The leading cause of heart attack is blood clots. When these blood clots lodges in the coronary artery (feeds the heart muscles), it avoids the backflow of blood into the heart. This may cause a crushing pain in the chest which may also radiate to the back. Therefore back pain is related to the heart.

Last reviewed at:
21 Feb 2019  -  5 min read




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