About Physiatry

Back and Neck Pain

Condition: Back and neck pain may be caused by compression or irritation of bundles of nerves in the spine. When it occurs in the lower back it is called lumbar radiculopathy. When it is in the neck, it is called cervical radiculopathy.

Background: Between 1 and 5% of people will get this type of back and neck pain. Men get it more often than women.  

Risk Factors: People who work at jobs that require driving or heavy lifting are most likely to have back and neck pain. Other factors that can raise a person’s risk include tall height, smoking, being overweight, multiple pregnancies, and having a low-activity lifestyle or chronic cough.   

History and Symptoms:
Pain may be throbbing, aching, or sharp. There may also be tingling or numbness, which may extend into the legs. Usually the symptoms improve with rest within a week or two.  

Physical Exam: The doctor will check your strength and reflexes, and whether you can feel different things such as the touch of something sharp or cold. You may be asked to walk and lift or rotate your legs and feet.    

Diagnostic Process: Diagnosing back and neck pain is done mostly by asking patients questions about the pain, their ability to do their normal activities, and how well they are sleeping. X-rays may be used to rule out other problems, and other tests such as MRI may be used if the symptoms last for more than a month.    

Rehab Management:  It is important to stay as active as possible, although activities may need to be changed. Short rest periods may also be needed. Exercises to strengthen the back and stay flexible are also helpful.

Other Resources for Patients and Families: Families can encourage patients to stay active but rest when needed.

For Patients and Families:

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