• Dr Daniel Phang

Are Back and Neck Pain Solely Age-Related Ailments?


Back and neck pains are causes of daily discomfort, more so as we get older. The pain is usually mild; if it becomes more severe such that daily activities are impeded, your pain is likely to be a concern. If you have been experiencing persistent pain for approximately three months or more, it’s best to look into the possible causes of this discomfort.


Aging, repetitive heavy lifting, bad posture and acute injury are common causes of neck and back pain. However apart from these usual triggers, there could be other sources hence making the pain picture more complex than a simple ‘backache’ or ‘neckache’. Are we able to tell the difference? This is important as it affects your medical treatment and ultimately the prediction for recovery.

Here, we explore some of the causes and treatments options to consider for severe neck and back pain.


What are the common causes?



1. Disc pathology (affects both old and young patients)

Discs are the cushion between the bones of your spine and also allow mobility of the spine. The gel-like substance of spinal discs function acts as a shock absorber during physical activity such as walking or running.


The damage to the spinal disc is a common cause of back pain. A herniated or slipped disc arises when the disc ruptures: the gel-like substance leaks out and irritates the nearby muscles and nerve endings, causing stabbing pain down your back. The protruding disc may also compress the spinal nerves, causing pain down the arms or legs.


Disc herniations and its related conditions may be caused by trauma, activity, or even intense straining, such as coughing and sneezing.


So does age affect the damage done to your spinal discs? As we get older, these discs tend to dry out. This results in loss of disc volume and increased rigidity. These changes the spine biomechanics, causing back pain. The spinal canal may narrow, compressing on the spinal nerves, worsening the pain picture.




2. Osteoarthritis (more common among older patients)

Arthritis is a general term describing inflammation, degeneration and stiffness of the joints in the body. Osteoarthritis happens when the joint area degenerates due to prolonged use or old age. As we age, the cartilage, which allows normal joints to move smoothly, get worn out. This restricts mobility to the joints in your back.


Furthermore, bone formation (in response to the increased joint friction) may narrow spinal nerve space or impede spinal muscles movements, hence causing pain.


Age-related conditions of the lower back and neck include facet joint osteoarthritis and spondylosis.


3. Spinal stenosis (more common among older patients)

Spinal stenosis is a degenerative condition that occurs when the space within your spine start to narrow, stressing the nerves and spinal cord in that area. The pain is usually burning and may be associated with numbness. Typically, the pain is better when you stop to sit or squat down.


There are many causes of stenosis, ranging from age-related degeneration, to accidents and trauma, as well as disease-related causes.


4. Muscle and ligament related pain

While the above causes may be easier to identify with MRI and the history of symptoms, muscle and ligament related back and neck pain are likely the most common cause. These are tricky to diagnose as scans may turn out normal yet the least worrisome as these are usually injury-related and recover as the body heals.


However, the pain may be prolonged and distressing in some cases, leading to prolonged inadequate treatment.


When do you need to see a doctor?

While mild pains are expected of an active lifestyle, there are a few tell-tale signs that we should not ignore for neck and back pain. It is recommended to consult a professional if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Pain is persistent even with rest

  • Numbness and progressive weakness

  • Unexplained weight loss, night sweats

  • Pain at night, swollen glands

  • Bowel incontinence

What are the treatment options?

If the discomfort is prolonged and severe, urgent medical attention is required.


Once disease-related back and neck pain are ruled out, there are a couple of treatment options, namely lifestyle changes, physiotherapy and medication for pain management.


1. Lifestyle changes

To protect our spine for the long term, adopt daily habits such as having good sitting and sleeping postures, getting sufficient rest, and maintaining a healthy weight. If your lifestyle or job dictates that you lift heavy items, ensure you conduct these manual tasks without straining your spinal column.


An active lifestyle also improves blood flow to the spinal anatomy, hence, enhancing healing processes; reduces weight gain which is a risk to back and neck pain and creates a sense of well-being and ownership of pain ailments.


2. Physiotherapy

A supervised and structured physiotherapy programme will be able to alleviate pain and promote better spine health. Physiotherapy usually entails the use of heat and traction to reduce the pain, and when it subsides, physical exercises are introduced to strengthen the muscles.


3. Pain medication

Although medication is unable to cure the pain itself, it can alleviate pain and reduce the inflammation. If you are experiencing neuropathic pain, the appropriate medication for neuropathic pain treatment can soothe the patient’s nerves while undergoing physical therapy.


We always emphasize that pain medication aids in the management of pain and not merely to numb the senses to pain or induce addiction.


Conclusion

Seeking help in the early stages of back and neck pain is the best option to prevent or reduce further degeneration to your spine. If you find yourself experiencing severe and persistent pain, the best course of action would be to seek a pain specialist for medical attention. The different types of pain medications


At Affinity Pain Clinic, our professional physician offer extensive treatments that are tailored to every individual patient’s needs. Placing patient safety and care first, drop us a note at enquire@gastapp.org today for an appointment.