Does My Neck Pain Have Anything to Do With My Back Pain? If So, How? By Joel Rosen
I you happen to suffer with neck and back pain, you are going to love this article.
Questions you may ask yourself (if this is you) are:
“If I have neck pain, does that automatically mean I will have back pain too? Or if I already do have back and neck pain, are the two even related”? If you don’t ask yourself those questions, then those are two excellent questions any back pain sufferer, neck pain sufferer or both, should ask.
I think that they are excellent questions to ask because if they are related, and you happen to suffer with neck and back pain, then the answers may help you solve your own pain, and better yet, help you learn the reasons why you seem unable to lose your neck pain once and for all.
One of the best reference books relating to the anatomy and functioning of the spine ever published is aptly named:
THE SPINE Edited by two highly renowned doctors, Richard Rothman MD, PhD and Frederick Simeone MD, both were past Professors at Pennsylvania Medical School, Rothman for Orthopedic surgery, and Simeone for Neurosurgery.
In this reference book called “The Spine”, the second chapter is called “Applied Anatomy of the Spine”.
In that chapter, the author basically related how the “23 or 24 individual motor segments”, affect the entire spine. These 23 motor segments being referred to are better known as the bones of the spine and everything else that makes them complete, in terms of joint mechanics and electrical “wiring” (if you will).
The chapter explains how that no:
“Disorder of a single major component of a unit can exist without affecting: a) the function of the other components of the same unit, and b) the functions of the other levels of the spine.
That complex yet simple statement could very well hold a secret as to how neck and back pain are related, and more importantly what we can do about it.
In that quote above, the author is trying to get across two points. Firstly, when a problem develops in one area of the spine, then the spine will have a problem in the same area, but with the other components of the spine.
Seems like common sense actually.
By saying “components of the spine” the author is referring to having a problem with all the aspects of the structure and function of the spine. The bones, the nerves, the joints, the discs, the ligaments, the tendons, the cartilage, and anything else that helps make up the components in that area.
But the second more interesting point of that quote is the fact that when a problem develops with a major component of one unit” in the spine, then a problem will develop with the functioning of “another levels of the spine”
Very interesting finding, indeed.
The main take away idea of that entire quote is the fact that a problem in one component of the spine will affect the other components or “functions” of the same area, and the functions of “other” areas.
So picture this, if you have functional problems in your lower back (one component), like not being able to bend as far as you use to do, not being as flexible, having pain with sitting, pain with standing, changing positions, and pain with walking, then the problem can very likely be coming from the neck.
Other functional problems that can develop as a result of problems of the neck are the even more familiar activities of daily living, things like washing the dishes, cleaning up around the house, vacuuming, being on the computer, trying to get comfortable while watching television and trying to sleep comfortably.
If you have pain with doing any of these activities, you may be surprised to learn that you problem may very well start from your neck!
As well, similar problems and pains that you have in your neck, not being able to turn very far, pain into the upper shoulders, even weakness into the neck, arms and shoulders all may be as a result of the components of the lower back.
This idea that the entire spine can act like a singularly related “functioning entity” sounds kind of spooky I realize. Probably even harder to believe, but I assure you that this idea is supported by a vast array of literature, doctors, and references as you shall soon see.
For example, another reference text is entitled “Disorders of the Cervical Spine”
In regards to this references book, the authors tend to be a bit more specific. In this book, Dr. Bland a Professor of Medicine at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, states that “we tend to divide the examination of the spine into the regions: cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine…this is a mistake”
Dr. Bland goes on to explain why this is a mistake, by stating the cervical spine may “be symptomatic because of a thoracic or lumbar spine abnormality, and vice versa!”
Over the decades, numerous other publications point to the fact that the cervical spine and its problems can influence movements, perception of pain and the neurology of the lower back.
If you actually just stop to think about it though, the neck and back affecting one another should make complete sense.
The signals that go up and down the spine into the lower back must ultimately pass through the neck to get to the brain. As well, all the information travelling down from the brain to the back, must travel through the neck on its way down to arms, trunk, lower back, and legs in order to make them move (and what not).
Mechanical problems of the neck unfortunately can really “mess” with both the signals originating in the spine going to the brain (called afferents) and the signals originating or being relayed from the brain to the spine ( called motor function).
Something I find equally interesting about this phenomenon is the fact that it is not new.
In 1942 the only neurosurgeon in the Hawaiian Islands during Pearl Harbor was Dr. Ralph Cloward.
Operating endlessly and saving countless lives, Dr. Cloward pioneered numerous diagnostic and spinal surgical techniques.
He published an article entitled “Cervical Diskography” and notes that spinal cord compression by a midline cervical disc protrusion can cause “pain extending down to the feet”.
Several years later, and as early as 1946, Some of the best clinical observations as it relates to the spine comes from Herman Kabat, MD, PhD, published in a book entitled “Low Back and Leg Pain From Herniated Cervical Disc”
Dr Kabat explains that herniated discs in the neck is usually as a result of trauma, but he goes on to say that the compression of the cervical spinal cord by herniated discs in the neck is “the most common cause of low back and leg pain”
The other interesting finding in this presentation of lower back and leg pain as a result of neck herniations is the fact that these symptoms are “indistinguishable from the characteristics symptoms of a herniated lumbar disc”
IF you have ever suffered with lower back pain, and have not been able to find any relief, or very little relief, all of the above findings should be a complete paradigm shift.
A paradigm shift because, while you have been focusing on back exercises, epidurals in the back, physical therapy and chiropractic in the back, and even surgery in the back, they may have been all for not, because the real problem, the real source of your pain, is in the neck.
Dr. Kabat confirms this fact when he suggests that “conservative treatment exclusively of the herniated cervical disc in a large series of cases has routinely produced complete and lasting relief of pain in the low back and leg”
Sometimes too, with herniated discs in the neck, pain in the low back and leg is the only complaint, without experiencing any pain in the neck or arm. When this is the case, it is easy to see how we can miss the true cause of the pain.
So what happens when we miss the true cause of lower back pain, especially if the true cause is coming from the herniated disc material in the neck?
Well for one, doctors often recommend lumbar spine surgery. I know that if that were me, and doctors recommended that I have back surgery to relive my back pain, and the real cause of my back pain was coming from my neck, I certainly would want to know that.
Well Dr. Kabat found that patients that did not get any relief from back surgery were found to have a herniated cervical disc which was “exclusively responsible for the low back and leg pain”
I know that that statement above in the very least raises several concerns that must be addressed.
Number one, you must be thinking how the two, the neck and lower back, anatomically, actually relate to each other? Better yet, how in fact can a herniated disc in the neck, result in function problems, pain, and problems in the back? Explain it to me.
Number two, if the neck and the compression that occurs there can cause low back pain and leg pain, why have I never heard about it until now? Why is it not included and considered in the management of people like me, people that suffer with lower back pain?
In part two of this series “How does my neck pain relate to my back pain”, I will be discussing the above concerns, and hopefully shed some light on why you keep suffering with lower back and neck pain.
In the last installment, I will give you a simple do at home exercise and stretching program that you can do own your home, to help relieve the compression in your neck, and ultimately live a pain free life.
Till next time, watching your back and neck.
Dr Joel Rosen, D.C. BPE, BA (Psych), is a Doctor of Chiroprrtic as well as a lifestyle & conditioning coach in Boca Raton, author of Lose the Neck Pain System, a contributing author to a number of article directories and magazines
Dr. Joel’s neck pain elimination system websites feature his best-selling Lose the Neck Pain System for neck pain, upper back pain, headache pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and even lower back pain and his membership site offers access to all of Dr Joel’s Lose the Neck Pain System and video clips for men and women and discussion forums.
Dr. Joel Rosen also has an advanced education background, completing a Master’s of Science Degree in Exercise Physiology from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada and completing a Psychology from York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Dr. Joel Rosen combines both disciplines as well as his doctorate in chiropractic to give his patients the cutting edge rehab strategies and techniques for obtaining optimal health and ending years of pain and suffering. Dr. Joel continues to study the latest training, supplementation, and nutrition research that will help improve client’s health and wellness as well as their physical and mental performance.
Check out his website at http://doctorjoelrosen.com/
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