Low back pain can range from mild, dull, annoying pain, to persistent, severe, disabling pain in the lower back. Pain in the lower back can restrict mobility and interfere with normal functioning and quality of life.
Neck pain is pain that occurs in the area of the cervical vertebrae in the neck. Because of its location and range of motion, the neck is often left unprotected and subject to injury.
Pain in the back or neck area can be acute, which comes on suddenly and intensely, or chronic, which can last for weeks, months, or even years. The pain can be continuous or intermittent.
Even with today's technology, the exact cause of back and neck pain can be found in few cases. In most cases, back and neck pain may be a symptom of many different causes, including any of the following:
Overuse, strenuous activity, or improper use such as repetitive or heavy lifting
Trauma, injury, or fractures
Degeneration of vertebrae, often caused by stresses on the muscles and ligaments that support the spine, or the effects of aging
Abnormal growth such as a tumor or bone spur
Obesity due to increased weight on the spine and pressure on the discs
Poor muscle tone
Muscle tension or spasm
Sprain or strain
Ligament or muscle tears
Joint problems, such as arthritis
Protruding or herniated (slipped) disk and pinched nerve
Osteoporosis and compression fractures
Congenital (present at birth) abnormalities of the vertebrae and bones
Abdominal problems, such as an aortic aneurysm
The following may help to prevent back and neck pain:
Practice correct lifting techniques
Use telephones and workplace computers and other equipment properly
Maintain correct posture while sitting, standing, and sleeping
Participate in regular exercise (with proper stretching before participation)
Maintain a healthy weight
Reduce emotional stress that may cause muscle tension
A back and neck pain rehabilitation program is designed to meet the needs of the individual patient, depending upon the type and severity of the pain, injury, or disease. Active involvement of the patient and family is vital to the success of the program.
The goal of back and neck rehabilitation is to help the individual to return to the highest level of function and independence possible, while improving the overall quality of life — physically, emotionally, and socially. The focus of rehabilitation is on relieving pain and improving mobility (movement).
In order to help reach these goals, back and neck rehabilitation programs may include the following:
Exercise programs to improve range of motion, increase muscle strength, improve flexibility and mobility, and increase endurance
Help with obtaining assistive devices that promote independence
Patient and family education and counseling
Pain management techniques
Smoking cessation counseling
Gait (walking) and movement retraining
Ergonomic assessments and work-related injury prevention programs
Generally, there are 3 phases to back and neck pain rehabilitation. These include the following:
During this initial phase, the physiatrist, orthopedist, and the rest of the treatment team focus on making a diagnosis, developing a treatment plan, and starting treatment to reduce the pain and inflammation. This may include some of the items listed above and possibly the utilization of ultrasound, electrical stimulation, or special injections.
Once the initial pain and inflammation are reduced, the rehabilitation team then focuses on helping the patient restore function. This includes returning the patient to normal daily activities, while starting an exercise program that is designed to help the patient regain flexibility and strength.
The goal of this phase is 2-fold: educating the patient on ways to prevent further injury and strain to the back and neck, and helping the patient to prevent further injury by improving strength and endurance.
Back and neck rehabilitation programs can be conducted on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Many skilled professionals are part of the back and neck rehabilitation team, including any or all of the following:
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