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What Are Common Causes of Chronic Back and Neck Pain?

An X-ray of the neck, including the cervical vertebrae.
A man with low back pain.
Article Details
  • Written By: Maggie J. Hall
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 11 July 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Repetitive stressful movements resulting in injury and degenerative processes are common causes of chronic back and neck pain. Ligament strains, muscle sprains or disc herniations can induce inflammation and pain. Inflammation and swelling compress nerves, causing painful sensations to radiate along nerve tissue pathways. Certain maladies often cause spinal misalignments that trap sensitive spinal nerves. Individuals might experience pain in the affected area along with symptoms extending to surrounding areas and the extremities.

Individuals can feel many types of back pain or neck pain, depending on what region of the spine is affected. Symptoms of a neck injury or degeneration might include upper back pain along with neck and shoulder pain. Individuals might also have inflexibility or stiffness of the neck, in addition to decreased or prickly sensations or weakness of the neck, shoulders and arms. Back pain in the lower spine occurs with weakening or trauma anywhere from the fourth lumbar vertebrae down to the first sacral vertebrae.

Individuals who suffer from deterioration or injury in the lower spine have a variety of symptoms, including ankle and foot weakness on the affected side. Many of them suffer pain radiating to the hip and discomfort traveling down into the backside and legs. These symptoms relate to the condition referred to as sciatica. One of the complications of back pain concerns the development of excruciating muscle spasms. Muscle tightening is the body’s natural reflex response to pain and trauma.

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Common ailments that cause chronic back and neck pain include disc herniation, degenerative disc disease, spondylolithesis and stenosis. The discs located between vertebrae contain a soft inner nucleus and a fibrous outer layer. Designed to absorb shock, a disc occasionally protrudes or herniates beyond the natural position. Chronic back and neck pain result when the disc applies pressure to spinal nerves.

Healthcare providers suggest that 30 percent of all people develop generative disc disease. Trauma or natural wearing down of the spine results in the deterioration of the disc’s tough outer layer. The disc no longer adequately absorbs shock and stress. Nerves become inflamed or pinched, producing chronic back and neck pain.

Spondylolithesis, or a slipped disc, occurs when one vertebrae slides over the top of another. Along with discs, cartilage and thin, fragile bone keep vertebrae separated. When this cartilage breaks down or one of the small bones fractures, vertebrae easily shift out of place, compressing nerve tissue.

Stenosis, most often attributed to aging, commonly causes chronic neck and back pain. This condition involves the gradual thinning of the space between the vertebrae. As stenosis progresses over an extended period of time, individuals experience increasing amounts of pain along with discomfort, uncoordination and weakness in the arms or legs.

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