The spine is a highly complex mechanism of bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, and nerves that work together in a beautifully integrated way. It bears the weight of our body and supports our arm and leg movement. It protects the spinal cord and nerves that connect our brain to every other part of our body, and contributes significantly to balance and coordination. Like links in a chain, each vertebral segment of the spine moves in relation to the segments above and below. Yet, an imbalance in this complex mechanism of spine function results in spine pain.
Are neck pain and back pain common?
The short answer is, yes! According to the CDC, 80% of us will have back pain during our lifetime, and 20% of the population currently has back pain. In fact, back pain alone is the second most common reason for a visit to the doctor’s office. (Upper respiratory infection is the most common reason.) One’s first episode of back pain is equally likely to occur at any age from early teens to early 40’s, and 80-90% will have a recurrent episode. Like back pain, neck pain is also a significant health problem. Every year, 14% of working adults are limited by neck pain, and up to 85% will have chronic or recurrent symptoms. Obviously, spine pain in general is a serious problem. The good news is that new research is providing more effective treatment strategies and prevention opportunities.
What causes spine pain?
The vast majority of spine pain is not caused by fractures, tumors, or other deteriorating disease, but by mechanical spine problems. Sprained ligaments, strained muscles, ruptured discs, pinched nerves, and swollen joints are considered mechanical spine problems. These injuries cause further changes as the joints become stuck, the supporting muscles weaken, and the nerves become further sensitive to pain. This cascade of problems is a major contributor to the above detailed high pain episode recurrence rate.
You’ve probably known someone who had an injury from a serious fall or car accident. But you have also probably known someone who had an injury from something as small as a sneeze or bending down to pick up a pencil. Those can be the most frustrating because something so seemingly simple and unassuming can set into motion a snowball of spine pain and dysfunction. In addition to trauma or acute injury, there are repeated microscopic traumas and routines such as repetitive movement, inactivity, or poor posture that will add up over time to cause a mechanical injury.
Does spine pain resolve by itself?
In the past, doctors believed that mechanical neck and back pain heals with pain medication and bed rest. However, we now know that when untreated at the root cause, back pain recurs in episodes. The pain continues to show up again, long after it began. If the initial episodes lasts for more than 30 days, there is a risk of prolonged disability from chronic back pain. The way the pain signals are sent through the body can become disordered, so that even when the injured back has healed, the pain signals are still sent to the brain. It is like a memory loop of pain that is constantly being replayed. Our doctors specialize in spine pain that is either brand new, repeated, or chronic. Our focus is to restore healthy movement and bring healing to the root cause of the pain.
What are the best treatment options?
The cycle of dysfunction (see diagram) can be addressed in several different ways. Recent scientific investigations show that a single type of treatment is not nearly as effective as an integrated treatment plan. The benefit of an integrated treatment plan is the application of the correct therapy at the correct time. Over the past 20 years, researchers have investigated the effectiveness of spinal manipulation, rehabilitative exercises, anti-inflammatory methods, and advice to stay active. While some individuals can be successful with any single treatment, research indicates that spinal manipulation may be more effective than advice and medication alone. Also, spinal manipulation in conjunction with rehabilitative exercise is most beneficial for persistent mechanical neck pain. Additionally, research has shown that a pinched nerve resulting in difficult arm or leg pain may respond well to a course of both manipulation and injection of medication into the area of mechanical dysfunction. There is certainly a shift in the management of spine pain toward using multiple therapies at specific times through the treatment plan. Following the best evidence will result in better patient satisfaction, improved outcomes, and less cost.
What is spine manipulation?
Spine manipulation (also known as chiropractic adjustment) restores mobility at specific joints in the spine by manually applying a controlled force into joints that have become restricted in their movement. As previously discussed, mechanical dysfunction of a spine joint results in an imbalance of motion. The muscles and nerves always are affected by joint motion restriction. A course of several manipulations safely increases the motion of a previously restricted spine joint and balances the motion of the spine.
Neck and back pain are often the norm in our society and many do not seek treatment as they adopt it as simply “a fact of life.” The problem with adopting that philosophy is it limits one’s life and how one can live life if they are accepting pain and discomfort to be the norm. Given the success for healing with an integrated treatment approach for spine pain, we encourage a proactive approach to health and pain so you can get back to your life and favorite activities.