ptoms

Back Pain, neck pain and symptoms caused by a spinal condition are a common problem for many adult Americans. The different parts of the spine are normally well balanced and able to handle the movements, stresses, and strains of the body gracefully. However, when parts of the neck or back are injured or start to wear out, it can be a significant source of pain and discomfort.

When describing symptoms to your doctor use adjectives like dull, aching, hot, or throbbing and make sure to include the duration of these symptoms.

Below are some common symptoms. To learn more, click on the symptom that you have been experiencing:

Back pain

Neck Pain

Arm Pain

Leg Pan

If any of the following symptoms occur, contact a doctor immediately:

Pain is worse when you cough or sneeze
Pain or numbness travels down one or both legs
Pain awakens you from sleep
You are finding it difficult to pass urine or have a bowel movement
Pain is accompanied by loss of control of urination or bowel movements
These important symptoms could signal nerve damage or other serious medical problems. There are many other conditions that could be causing these problems, but an early and accurate diagnosis is vital for successful treatment.

Back Pain

Where Back Pain Begins
Back pain is the body’s natural response to injury or degenerative conditions of the spine. Usually, it’s resolved by time and non-surgical treatment, but it’s also important to know which conditions warrant a call to the doctor.

The back is one of our most important anatomic structures, providing support and facilitating mobility and balance for the entire body, as well as protecting the spinal cord. Because of the loads placed on it each and every day, it’s no surprise this well-designed structure, consisting of bones (vertebrae), discs, muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves, is particularly susceptible to injury and other conditions that may have you reaching for the heating pad – or your doctor’s phone number.

When you feel pain, it’s your body’s natural reaction to signals transmitted from the pain source, which travel through the nerves in the spinal cord and up to the brain, where they are perceived as pain.

Acute Pain vs. Chronic Pain

Acute pain is commonly described as sharp and severe; it tends to come on suddenly but also improve with time and short-term conservative treatment, such as medication, exercise, physical therapy or rest.

Chronic pain is commonly described as a deep, aching, dull or burning pain, and may be accompanied by numbness, tingling and/or weakness that extends into the extremities. Chronic pain tends to last a long time and is not relieved by conservative care.

What’s Causing My Back Pain?

Many sudden attacks of acute back pain are the result of overstretched muscles (strains) or ligaments (sprains). The pain may be most severe immediately after injury, or it may worsen gradually over a few hours. In most instances, back pain as a result of strain or sprain can be resolved following a conservative course of treatment – usually within two to six weeks – provided there are no serious underlying medical conditions.

Common causes of strains and sprains that can trigger acute back pain include:

Improper lifting
Sudden, strenuous physical effort
Accident, sports injury or fall
Sleeping position and/or pillow positioning
Poor sitting or standing posture
Bending forward too long
Hiking” your shoulder to hold the phone receiver to your ear
Carrying a heavy purse, briefcase or backpack
Stress and muscle tension
Physical conditions that can possibly contribute to the onset of acute back pain include:

Lack of muscle tone
Excess weight
Pregnancy
Other causes of back pain include:

Mechanical Disorders: Many people who suffer from back problems are experiencing mechanical pain, which means that a specific part of their spine, such as an intervertebral disc, a ligament, or a joint is damaged and is not working correctly. Examples of spinal mechanical disorders include degenerative disc disease, herniated disc, spondylolysis/spondylolysthesis, arthritis and spinal stenosis.

Developmental Disorders: Developmental disorders of the lower back are caused by abnormalities in the formation and growth of the skeleton. Although the treatment for many of these conditions is conservative, surgery may be required to keep some disorders from worsening, and in order to prevent long-term disability and or deformity. Scoliosis and kyphosis are examples of developmental disorders of the spine.

Inflammatory and Infectious Disorders: Infections of the spinal column are not common, but they are important because they are difficult to diagnose and there are serious consequences in the delay of an accurate diagnosis.

Tumors: Cancers and tumors of the spine and spinal cord are relatively rare. The most common symptom that patients with a spinal tumor have is pain. Because back pain is very common, it is also not a specific symptom of any one disease or medical condition.

Trauma: Trauma to the spine refers to injury that has occurred to the bony elements, soft tissues and/or neurological structures, resulting in instability of the vertebral column and actual or potential neurological injury.

When Should I See My Doctor?

When your back hurts, the first step is to assess the severity and cause of your back pain to determine whether you need to see a physician.

Consult a physician immediately if you:

Are experiencing back pain as a result of a physical trauma involving your spine, such as a fall or car accident
Are experiencing numbness in, or having difficulty moving, your extremities
Experience bladder control loss or impairment
Develop a fever or severe headache
Are over 60 and have been taking steroids for a long period of time
Experience chest pain or pain in the left arm
Are pregnant
In instances of acute back pain, do not experience any improvement after 72 hours of self-treatment at home
Have experienced chronic back pain for more than 6 weeks
If you are experiencing back pain, talk to your doctor about appropriate treatment options. Identifying the cause of your back pain, alleviating the pain – either at home or with your physician’s help – and avoiding re-injury are key to the healing process.

Neck Pain

The cervical spine is designed to handle a great deal of stress; however, there are a number of degenerative changes that can take place in the vertebrae and discs, resulting in neck pain and other symptoms.

Neck pain and other symptoms caused by a cervical (neck) spine disorder are a very common problem for many adult Americans. The neck, or cervical spine, is made up of seven vertebrae separated by shock-absorbing intervertebral discs and supported by muscles and ligaments, and also is rich in spinal nerves and nerve roots.

When you feel pain, it’s a reaction to signals transmitted throughout your body. These signals are sent from the pain source through the nerves in the spinal cord and into the brain, where they are perceived as pain. In addition to causing neck pain, problems that originate in the cervical spine may result in pain and other symptoms, such as tingling, numbness and muscle weakness, which extend into the shoulders, arms and hands.

Acute Pain vs. Chronic Pain

Acute pain is commonly described as sharp and severe; it tends to come on suddenly but also improve with time and short-term conservative treatment, such as medication, exercise, physical therapy or rest.

Chronic pain is commonly described as a deep, aching, dull or burning pain, and may be accompanied by numbness, tingling and/or weakness that extends into the extremities. Chronic pain tends to last a long time and is not relieved by conservative care.

What’s causing my neck pain?

The intervertebral discs of the cervical spine are very important for the normal mobility and function of your neck. Over time, age, genetics and everyday wear-and-tear can contribute to deterioration of these discs, which, when healthy, act as “cushions” for the individual bones of the spine, or vertebrae.

Each disc is made up of two parts:

The nucleus pulposus – the soft, gel-like center of the disc.
The annulus fibrosis – strong, fibrous outer ring that surrounds and supports the nucleus pulposus.
Over time, intervertebral discs can become dried out, compressed or otherwise damaged, due to age, genetics and everyday wear-and-tear. When this happens, the nucleus pulposus may push through the annulus fibrosis. Disc degeneration also may result in bone spurs, also called osteophytes, or spinal stenosis, the narrowing of the area of the spine where the nerve leaves the spine and travels to the rest of the body.

If disc or bone material pushes into or impinges on a nearby nerve root and/or the spinal cord, it may result in pain, numbness, weakness, muscle spasms and loss of coordination, both at the site of the damage and elsewhere in the body, since most the nerves for rest of the body (e.g., arms, chest, abdomen and legs) pass from the brain through the neck.

These symptoms and the conditions that cause them are collectively referred to as degenerative disc disease, if the condition has become chronic over time. Similar symptoms, however, may occur suddenly if the disc nucleus dislodges acutely and causes nerve root compromise, a condition referred to as a herniated disc.

When should I see my doctor?

If you are experiencing neck pain, talk to your doctor about appropriate treatment options. Identifying the cause of your neck pain, alleviating the pain – either at home or with your physician’s help – and avoiding re-injury are key to the healing process.

Consult a physician immediately if you:

Are experiencing back pain as a result of a physical trauma involving your spine, such as a fall or car accident
Are experiencing numbness in, or having difficulty moving, your extremities
Experience bladder control loss or impairment
Develop a fever or severe headache
Are over 60 and have been taking steroids for a long period of time
Experience chest pain or pain in the left arm
Are pregnant
In instances of acute neck pain, do not experience any improvement after 72 hours of self-treatment at home
Have experienced chronic back pain for more than 6 weeks

Leg Pain

Degenerative conditions in the vertebrae of your lumbar spine, or low back, are a common source of leg pain.

If you are experiencing leg pain, the source of your discomfort may not actually be in your leg, but in your lower back, or lumbar spine. The lumbar spine is a common source of back pain because it bears more body weight than any other section of the spine and is also subject to a significant amount of stress and force, be it from lifting a load of laundry or blocking a tackle.

When you feel pain, it’s a reaction to signals transmitted throughout your body. These signals are sent from the pain source through the nerves in the spinal cord and into the brain, where they are perceived as pain. Problems that originate in the lumbar spine may result in pain and other symptoms, such as tingling, numbness and muscle weakness, which may be localized in the lower back and/or extend into the hips, buttocks and/or legs. The medical term for symptoms that radiate into the extremities is radiculopathy, derived from the Latin words “radix,” or roots, and “pathos,” which means disease.

Acute Pain vs. Chronic Pain

Acute pain is commonly described as sharp and severe; it tends to come on suddenly but also improve with time and short-term conservative treatment, such as medication, exercise, physical therapy or rest.

Chronic pain is commonly described as a deep, aching, dull or burning pain, and may be accompanied by numbness, tingling and/or weakness that extends into the extremities. Chronic pain tends to last a long time and is not relieved by conservative care.

What’s Causing My Leg Pain?

The five vertebrae of the lumbar spine (L1-L5), located directly below the thoracic spine (mid-back) and directly above the sacrum, are separated by shock-absorbing intervertebral discs and supported by muscles and ligaments. These discs are very important for the normal mobility and function of your back. Over time, age, genetics and everyday wear-and-tear can contribute to deterioration of these discs, which, when healthy, act as “cushions” for the individual bones of the spine, or vertebrae.

Each disc is made up of two parts:

The nucleus pulposus – the soft, gel-like center of the disc.
The annulus fibrosis – the strong, fibrous outer ring that surrounds and supports the nucleus pulposus.
Over time, intervertebral discs can become dried out, compressed or otherwise damaged, due to age, genetics and everyday wear-and-tear. When this happens, the nucleus pulposus may push through the annulus fibrosis. Disc degeneration also may result in bone spurs, also called osteophytes, or spinal stenosis, the narrowing of the area of the spine where the nerve leaves the spine and travels to the rest of the body.

If disc or bone material pushes into or impinges on a nearby nerve root and/or the spinal cord, it may result in pain, numbness, weakness, muscle spasms and loss of coordination, both at the site of the damage and elsewhere in the body. Sciatica – often described as pain that begins in the hip and buttocks and continues all the way down the leg – is one example of a radicular symptom that may be caused by damage or deterioration in the lumbar spine.

These symptoms and the conditions that cause them are collectively referred to as degenerative disc disease, if the condition has become chronic over time. Similar symptoms, however, may occur suddenly if the disc nucleus dislodges acutely and causes nerve root compromise, a condition referred to as a herniated disc.

When Should I See My Doctor?

If you are suffering from chronic leg, buttock or hip pain or pain as a result of a physical trauma involving your lower back, such as a fall or car accident, you should seek treatment from a physician.

Consult a physician immediately if you:

Are experiencing numbness in, or having difficulty moving, your extremities
Experience bladder control loss or impairment
Develop a fever or severe headache
Are over 60 and have been taking steroids for a long period of time
Experience chest pain or pain in the left arm
Are pregnant
In instances of acute back pain, do not experience any improvement after 72 hours of self-treatment at home
Have experienced chronic leg pain for more than 6 weeks
If you are experiencing leg pain, talk to your doctor about appropriate treatment options. Identifying the cause of your leg pain, alleviating the pain – either at home or with your physician’s help – and avoiding re-injury are key to the healing process.

Arm Pain

Degenerative conditions in the vertebrae of your lumbar spine, or low back, are a common source of leg pain.

If you are experiencing arm pain, the source of your discomfort may not actually be in your arm, but in your neck. The neck, or cervical spine, is made up of seven vertebrae separated by shock-absorbing intervertebral discs and supported by muscles and ligaments, and also is rich in spinal nerves and nerve roots.

When you feel pain, it’s a reaction to signals transmitted throughout your body. These signals are sent from the pain source through the nerves in the spinal cord and into the brain, where they are perceived as pain. Problems that originate in the cervical spine may result in pain and other symptoms, such as tingling, numbness and muscle weakness, which may be localized in the neck and/or extend into the shoulders, arms and hands. The medical term for symptoms that radiate into the extremities is radiculopathy, derived from the Latin words “radix,” or roots, and “pathos,” which means disease.

Acute Pain vs. Chronic Pain

Acute pain is commonly described as sharp and severe; it tends to come on suddenly but also improve with time and short-term conservative treatment, such as medication, exercise, physical therapy or rest.

Chronic pain is commonly described as a deep, aching, dull or burning pain, and may be accompanied by numbness, tingling and/or weakness that extends into the extremities. Chronic pain tends to last a long time and is not relieved by conservative care.

What’s Causing My Arm Pain?

The intervertebral discs of the cervical spine are very important for the normal mobility and function of your neck. When healthy, these discs act as “cushions” for the individual bones of the spine, or vertebrae.

Each disc is made up of two parts:

The nucleus pulposus – the soft, gel-like center of the disc.
The annulus fibrosis – the strong, fibrous outer ring that surrounds and supports the nucleus pulposus.
Over time, intervertebral discs can become dried out, compressed or otherwise damaged, due to age, genetics and everyday wear-and-tear. When this happens, the nucleus pulposus may push through the annulus fibrosis. Disc degeneration also may result in bone spurs, also called osteophytes, or spinal stenosis, the narrowing of the area of the spinal canal.

If disc or bone material pushes into or impinges on a nearby nerve root and/or the spinal cord, it may result in pain, numbness, weakness, muscle spasms and loss of coordination, both at the site of the damage and elsewhere in the body, since most of the nerves for the rest of the body (e.g., arms, chest, abdomen and legs) pass from the brain through the neck.

These symptoms and the conditions that cause them are collectively referred to as degenerative disc disease, if the condition has become chronic over time. Similar symptoms, however, may occur suddenly if the disc nucleus dislodges acutely and causes nerve root compromise, a condition referred to as a herniated disc.

When Should I See My Doctor?

If you are suffering from chronic arm pain or pain as a result of a physical trauma involving your neck, such as a fall or car accident, you should seek treatment from a physician.

Consult a physician immediately if you:

Are experiencing numbness in, or having difficulty moving, your extremities
Experience bladder control loss or impairment
Develop a fever or severe headache
Are over 60 and have been taking steroids for a long period of time
Experience chest pain or pain in the left arm
Are pregnant
In instances of acute back pain, do not experience any improvement after 72 hours of self-treatment at home
Have experienced chronic leg pain for more than 6 weeks
If you are experiencing arm pain, talk to your doctor about appropriate treatment options. Identifying the cause of your arm pain, alleviating the pain – either at home or with your physician’s help – and avoiding re-injury are key to the healing process.