Neck and back pain have always been common, but it seems like they’re occurring even more frequently since many jobs have gone remote and people try to make do with working on couches or from incomplete home office set-ups. We know you may have a lot of questions about your neck or back pain, so we got answers from the Spine Care Team at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group, which includes:
How do I know if my back or neck pain is serious enough to require a doctor’s appointment?
Neck or back pain is a very common condition that affects many people during the course of their lives. Most episodes of neck or back pain will improve with time and may not need specific treatment. However, if back or neck pain persists, it is important to see your doctor. Your primary care physician can perform the initial evaluation. If symptoms do not improve, it may be necessary to see a spine specialist, like a neurosurgeon or orthopedic spine surgeon, to evaluate the causes of back pain. Reasons to see a specialist sooner would include debilitating pain, pain radiating into the arms or legs, weakness in the arms or legs, numbness in the groin or perineal region, urinary retention or incontinence, fever, and trauma.
How do I know if my back pain is originating from my muscles or my spine?
Pain in the back is often from a combination of factors. The back is a complex structure made of bones and discs held up by a large number of muscles. Wear and tear on the bones and discs, such as arthritis or degenerative disc disease, can cause pain. Strain on the back can cause muscle spasms that can be very painful and result in a decreased range of motion. Muscle spasms are characterized by tight muscles that hurt when trying to move, twist, or bend.
What are the symptoms of spinal nerve damage?
Damage or irritation of the spinal nerves in the neck will usually cause pain in the arms, while irritation of the nerves in the back may cause pain in the legs. These symptoms are called radiculopathy or sciatica. These conditions can also be associated with numbness or weakness in the arms or legs.
How can I tell if I have a pinched nerve? Depending on which spinal nerve is pinched, is it possible to feel pain anywhere in the body?
A pinched or irritated nerve in the neck will cause pain in the arm. This pain is usually in the area innervated by that nerve, called a dermatome. A pinched nerve in the lower back will cause pain in the leg.
What should I do if I hurt my back?
Most back injuries are self-limiting and will get better with time. It is best to keep moving and doing light activities, as this will speed up the healing process. It is usually best to avoid strenuous activity or lifting until the pain improves. Hot or cold packs can sometimes help with the pain. If symptoms persist or worsen, you should see your primary care physician or a spine specialist.
Have persistent back, neck, arm, or leg pain? Take our Spine Care Assessment to find the next step you should take in your healing journey.