Back and Neck Pain

Back and neck pain can range from a mildly annoying dull ache to severe, disabling pain that restricts movement and interferes with your ability to function normally. It generally falls into two categories:

  • Acute pain comes on quickly and intensely. Pain that occurs suddenly in your back or neck due to an injury is considered to be acute pain. This type of pain usually lasts 6 weeks or less.
  • Chronic pain may come on quickly or slowly, and linger for weeks, months or even years. It can be continuous or intermittent (it comes and goes). Chronic pain is less common than acute pain.

Back and neck pain can be caused by many different things including traumatic injury, strenuous activity, being out of shape, degenerative conditions such as arthritis or osteoporosis, a herniated disk or pinched nerve, or spinal deformity.

An estimated 80% of U.S. adults will experience low back pain at some point in their lives, and it’s the leading cause of disability worldwide.

Treatment for Back and Neck Pain

Treatment depends on what’s causing your back or neck pain. In many cases, acute pain may improve with short-term rest. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, may help with the discomfort. Gentle exercise is recommended to help prevent stiffness and loss of mobility. Surgery is rarely needed.

For chronic back or neck pain, conservative measures generally are recommended before surgery is considered (unless delaying surgery would cause more serious complications). These conservative measures may include anti-inflammatory medications, bracing, physical therapy, steroid injections, nerve blocks, acupuncture, or osteopathic manipulation.

When chronic back and neck pain becomes severe and disabling, a physical rehabilitation program tailored to your unique needs may be appropriate. Rehab focuses on relieving pain, improving mobility, and helping you return to the highest-possible level of function and independence.

If your back or neck pain is severe and doesn’t improve in two weeks with rest and medicine, if you have numbness, tingling or shooting pain down your arms or legs, or if the pain keeps you from performing your regular activities, it’s important to see a specialist for further evaluation and appropriate treatment.

If you have low back pain along with loss of bladder and bowel control, as well as weakness in both legs, these are symptoms of a serious condition called cauda equina syndrome. This is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention.

Why Choose Cooper to Diagnose and Treat Back and Neck Pain

Cooper’s respected Spine Program offers a multidisciplinary team of fellowship-trained and board-certified spine specialists who help ease your pain and improve your quality of life using the latest surgical and nonsurgical treatments and technologies available. You can count on us for:

  • Recognized expertise: Our specialists excel at diagnosing and treating people of all ages with common and complex issues affecting the back and neck. Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey has named Cooper a Blue Distinction® Center for Spine Surgery, recognizing our clinical expertise and excellent care.
  • A full range of treatment options: We offer patients comprehensive treatment options, including nonsurgical solutions. When surgery is necessary, we emphasize minimally invasive approaches that promote faster recovery and reduced pain.
  • Advanced technology: Our operating rooms are equipped with sophisticated technologies, including advanced imaging that guides doctors during intricate surgeries and minimally invasive instruments that allow for smaller incisions
  • A multidisciplinary team approach: At Cooper, orthopaedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, neuroradiologists and physical therapists work together to ensure you receive the highest level of care
  • Leading-edge research: Cooper’s orthopaedic surgeons are involved in research on a range of spine conditions, ensuring that our patients benefit from the latest knowledge and treatment advances 

Causes and Risk Factors for Back and Neck Pain

Back and neck pain can result from a range of causes, including:

  • Overuse, strenuous activity or improper use, such as repetitive or heavy lifting
  • Trauma, injury or fractures
  • Degeneration of vertebrae, often caused by the effects of aging or stresses on the muscles and ligaments that support your spine
  • Infection
  • Abnormal growth, such as a spinal tumor or bone spur
  • Obesity, which places increased weight on your spine and pressure on your disks
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Muscle tension or spasm
  • Muscle sprain or strain
  • Ligament or muscle tears
  • Joint problems, such as arthritis
  • Protruding or herniated (slipped) disk and pinched nerve
  • Osteoporosis, which can contribute to compression fractures
  • Congenital (present at birth) spinal deformity 
  • Whiplash (also called cervical strain), a neck injury that results from fast, forceful back-and-forth movement of the neck

Symptoms of Back and Neck Pain

While pain is the obvious symptom, it can take many forms, such as:

  • Dull, burning, aching or sharp pain anywhere along your spine; the pain can be confined to a single spot or cover a large area
  • Sharp, shooting pain that spreads from your lower back to your buttocks, down the back of your leg (this is known as sciatica); it's usually caused when a herniated disk or bone spur in the spine presses on the nerve, and it typically affects only one side of the body
  • A persistent ache in the middle or lower part of your back, especially after standing or sitting for an extended period

Other symptoms associated with back pain include:

  • Leg numbness or tingling above or below the knee
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control, with weakness in both legs, are symptoms of a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention

Other symptoms associated with neck pain, which can range from sharp shooting pain or a dull ache in the neck, may include:

  • Arm numbness or tingling
  • Headaches
  • Shoulder pain

Preventing Back and Neck Pain

These strategies may help to prevent back and neck pain:

  • Avoid heavy lifting; when you do lift something, use the proper technique (bend your knees and keep your back straight as you lift)
  • Maintain correct posture while sitting and standing
  • Avoid sleeping on your stomach. If you sleep on your back, place a pillow under your knees. If you sleep on your side, put the pillow between your knees and draw them up slightly toward your chest.
  • Exercise regularly, and do specific back- and core-strengthening exercises two to three times a week
  • Do exercises that improve your balance (such as tai chi or yoga)
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Reduce emotional stress, which can contribute to muscle tension
  • Make sure you consume enough vitamin D and calcium in your diet to help your bones remain strong
  • Use telephones, computers and other equipment properly, and take frequent breaks to give your back and neck a rest

Contact Us

To learn more about the services available for treating back and neck pain at Cooper or to request an appointment, please call 800.8.COOPER (800.826.6737).

Refer a Patient

If you are a doctor who wants to refer a patient to Cooper for back and neck pain, please call 800.826.6737.