The back is designed to be strong and flexible, but like everything else, it has its limits. Lifting something too heavy, overdoing it on the ski slopes, court or ball field, or spending too much time at the computer without the proper ergonomics can lead to short-term or chronic pain. As we age, something as simple as bending down, sleeping on the wrong pillow or turning your head too quickly can cause problems.
The most common type of back pain is caused by a muscle strain, which is when a muscle gets stretched or torn. Most people call this a pulled muscle. A sprain, or a stretching or tearing of the ligaments that connect bones, can also cause pain.
Other common causes of back and neck pain include a herniated or degenerative disk, a pinched nerve, sciatica (leg pain), osteoarthritis, and spinal stenosis, which is evidenced by leg pain when it occurs in the lower back or arm pain if it occurs in the cervical spine or neck area.
When should I see a doctor?
Most back and neck pain will heal naturally with time. If you pain lasts more than one month, see your doctor. Depending on the source of the pain, you may want to see an orthopedist. Orthopedists treat problems in the bones and joints. Some treat sports injuries and some specialize in the spine.
Orthopedic spine surgeons can diagnose the problem and determine if the pain can be managed with medication or alternative therapies such as acupuncture or chiropractic. In some cases, surgery may be recommended.