Back and Neck Pain: Is It Muscles, Nerves, or Discs?

back and neck painAn aching back or sore neck can make normal activities painful and even interrupt sleep. While millions of Americans suffer from back and neck pain each year, there are many different types of pain and a variety of conditions that can cause the discomfort.

Sources of Back and Neck Pain

Treating back and neck pain effectively requires discovering the source of the pain. Typically, most back and neck pain is caused by one of the following:   

  • Strain – Strains to muscles and ligaments can happen with strenuous activity or heavy lifting. This type of pain may feel like spasms that come and go or a constant soreness.
  • Compressed Nerves – Ruptured discs or narrowing of the spinal column (spinal stenosis) can pinch or press on nerves. This can cause back or neck pain to spread to extremities, such as the legs or ams. It can also cause numbness or tingling in those areas. If the sciatic nerve is compressed, a burning low back pain may occur with pain in the buttocks and down one leg.
  • Ruptured or Herniated Disc – Discs between the vertebrae may become compressed and bulge outward (herniation) or rupture, causing pain.
  • Arthritis – The cartilage between joints begins to deteriorate, causing pain. In osteoarthritis, the body reacts by forming new bone, often called bone spurs, that affect joint motion.
  • Degenerative Diseases – In degenerative disc disease, the discs lose elasticity and flexibility. The discs no longer provide the proper amount of cushioning in the spine, leading to pain and possibly causing a herniated disc.  
Diagnosis is the First Step to Relief

A proper diagnosis is key to finding relief. Once your doctor understands what is causing the pain, they can recommend the most appropriate treatment.

Most back and neck pain can be treated without surgery. A combination of medications, steroid injections, applied heat or cold, physical therapy, rest, traction, support, or massage may be recommended.

Your doctor may perform one or all of the following diagnostic steps:

  • Physical Exam – The first step in diagnosing back and neck pain is a physical exam. The doctor will observe your posture, range of motion, and note any specific movements that cause you pain. The doctor will also feel for muscle spasms or tenderness and examine your spine curvature and alignment.
  • Neurological Exam – Depending on your symptoms, you may also have a neurological exam. The doctor will test your muscle strength, reflexes, and evaluate if your back or neck pain has spread to other parts of your body. This can help determine if your spinal nerves have been affected.
  • Imaging – If your doctor suspects your problem is not caused by a muscle strain, but rather by a structural problem such as arthritis, disc degeneration, or a nerve problem, they may order an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI.
Schedule an Appointment Today

The primary care physicians at LeBauer HealthCare locations in Burlington, Greensboro, and other parts of the Triad have experience evaluating and diagnosing back and neck pain. New patients may request an appointment with our convenient online form or contact the location nearest you.

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