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What Causes Neck and Low Back Pain?

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What Causes Neck and Low Back Pain?

4 min read


Neck and back pain are one of the leading causes of disability in working adults worldwide. Read this article below to know more about it.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Preetha. J

Published At September 12, 2014
Reviewed AtJune 8, 2023


The neck or back pain can limit mobility, interfere with normal functioning and quality of life in everyday life, and often renders great anxiety that a serious condition may have arrived.

Back pain can be a mild, dull, annoying ache, persistent, severe, or disabling pain. One should always consult a healthcare professional if they have persistent pain. Neck pain happens in the area of the cervical vertebrae in the neck. The neck is usually left unprotected and subject to injury due to its location and range of motion. Back or neck pain can be acute or chronic. While acute pain occurs suddenly and intensely, chronic pain persists for weeks, months, or even years. The pain can also be continuous or intermittent. Fortunately, people can take measures to prevent or relieve most back or neck pain episodes. If prevention fails, simple at-home treatment and proper body mechanics often heal the pain within a few weeks and keep it functional. Rarely is surgery required to treat back pain.

What Causes Neck and Back Pain?

The actual cause of back and neck pain is hard to determine. In most cases, it can have many different reasons, including any of the following conditions:

  • Strenuous activity or improper use, like repetitive or heavy lifting.

  • Injury, trauma, or fractures.

  • Infection.

  • Degeneration of vertebrae, usually caused by pressures on the muscles and ligaments that support the spine, or the effects of aging.

  • Abnormal growths, such as a tumor or bone spur.

  • Bulging or ruptured disks.

  • Obesity, which places increased weight on the spine and stresses the disks.

  • Protruding or herniated disk and pinched nerve.

  • Poor muscle tone.

  • Muscle tension or spasm.

  • Joint problems, such as arthritis.

  • Sprain or strain.

  • Ligament or muscle tears.

  • Smoking.

  • Osteoporosis.

  • Congenital abnormalities of the vertebrae and bones.

  • Abdominal problems like aortic aneurysm.

What Are the Symptoms of Neck and Back Pain?

Symptoms related to back pain may include:

  • Sharp, burning or shooting pain that radiates from the low back to the legs or worsens with bending, lifting, twisting, standing, or walking.

  • Dull pain in the back. The pain can be restricted to a single spot or cover a large area.

  • Numbness or tingling sensation in legs above or below the knee.

  • Stiffness or ache that occurs anywhere from the neck to the tailbone.

  • Constant aches in the middle or lower part of the back, especially after standing or sitting for a prolonged period.

  • Loss of bowel and bladder control, with weakness in both legs. These are the symptoms of a serious condition that needs immediate medical attention.

Symptoms of neck pain include:

  • Stiff neck.

  • Arm numbness or tingling.

  • Radiating pain or numbness.

  • Headaches.

  • Shoulder pain.

  • Pain when moving, twisting, or extending the cervical spine.

  • Pain when the cervical spine is palpated.

  • Sharp shooting pains or dull aches in the neck.

How Are Neck and Back Pain Diagnosed?

See a doctor for a medical and physical examination if someone experiences neck or back pain. The doctor can also help rule out more serious causes of back or neck pain. If the doctor suspects that a specific condition is causing the pain, the doctor may order one or more tests:

X-Ray: These images check the bone alignment and whether there is arthritis or broken bones.

MRI or CT Scans: These images help show herniated disks or problems with bones, muscles, ligaments, tissue, tendons, nerves, and blood vessels.

Blood Tests: The blood tests can help determine whether there is an infection or other condition that might be causing the pain.

Bone Scan: Rarely the doctor may use a bone scan to examine bone tumors or fractures caused by osteoporosis.

Nerve Studies: Electromyography (EMG) estimates the nerves' electrical impulses and the muscles' responses.

How Are Neck and Back Pain Treated?

Most back or neck pain improves within a month of at-home treatment. However, back pain is a complex condition. For many people, the pain resolves within a few months, but only a few have constant, severe pain.


  • Over-the-counter pain relievers such as Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen to help with the discomfort. However, overuse of these drugs can cause serious side effects.

  • The doctor may prescribe a muscle relaxant if mild to moderate back pain does not improve with over-the-counter pain relievers. Muscle relaxants can cause dizziness and sleepiness.

  • Topical pain relievers such as creams, ointments, or patches.

  • Antidepressants, particularly Duloxetine and tricyclic antidepressants, such as Amitriptyline, may be prescribed to relieve chronic back pain.

Physical Therapy:

For chronic pain in the back and neck, several remedies can be helpful before taking surgical options. These remedies include:

  • Exercises that increase flexibility, strengthen the back and abdominal muscles, and improve posture.

  • Regular use of these methods can help keep pain from returning.

  • Physical therapists also educate about how to modify the movements during an episode of back or neck pain to avoid flaring pain symptoms while continuing to be active.


People with unrelenting radiating leg pain or progressive muscle weakness resulting from nerve compression can benefit from surgery. In addition, surgical procedures are often done for pain related to structural problems, like narrowing of the spine (spinal stenosis) or a herniated disk that has failed to respond to other therapy.

How Are Neck and Back Pain Prevented?

The following tips may help prevent back and neck pain:

  • Exercise: Regular low-impact aerobic exercises that do not strain or jolt the back. It can increase strength and endurance in the back and allow better functioning of the muscles.

  • Walking and swimming are good choices. Talk to a doctor about which activities to try. Abdominal and back muscle exercises can help condition these muscles.

  • Maintain a healthy weight.

  • Quit smoking because it increases the risk of low back pain.

  • Avoid movements that twist or strain the back. Use your body properly.

  • Maintain correct posture while standing, sitting, and sleeping.

  • Sit smart by choosing a seat with good lower back support, armrests, and a swivel base.

  • Change the position frequently, at least every half-hour.

  • Avoid heavy lifting.

  • Properly use computers, telephones, and other equipment.

  • Reduce emotional stress as it may cause muscle tension.

  • Ensure to have enough Vitamin D and calcium in the diet.


Neck and back pain is one of the leading causes of disability in working adults worldwide. The pain can limit mobility and interfere with normal functioning and quality of life. Fortunately, one can take measures to prevent or relieve most back pain episodes. If prevention fails, simple home-based treatment and medications can heal the back within a few weeks and keep it functional. Understanding the mechanism of the neck or low back pain is essential in establishing an accurate diagnosis and effectively managing the condition.

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.
Dr. Ignacio Antanio Magana
Dr. Ignacio Antanio Magana



back pain
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