Back Basics: Contributing Factors to Back or Neck Pain

From the Healing Bridge Physical Therapy

Summer 2006 Newsletter

By Nancy Hartung, BS, PTA


Who of us has not had back or neck pain? Not many, I suspect. Pain is usually not the “disease,” but rather just a symptom of an underlying problem. The problem may have been present for months or years. Often the body, over time, finds it can no longer adapt or mold itself to fix a structural malfunction. It then lets us know, through pain, that some attention and self-care strategies must be employed. Your body is inviting you to take care of it. A trauma injury is, of course, an immediate malfunction and many of the same strategies will need to be applied.

Most chronic or recurrent back or neck pain has underlying contributing factors that are easily addressed. These include: poor posture positions, poor body mechanics, loss or lack of flexibility, decline in physical fitness, and high stress levels.

Your back and neck perform a huge job for you and deserve a little understanding and compassion. The spine has 24 vertebral segments stacked on top of another to provide support and movement for our trunk and neck. Notably these segments create the bony “tube” that houses our spinal cord. The spine protects the spinal cord and provides space at each vertebral segment for the nerve roots to exit and enter.

Ligamentous and connective tissue structures help to keep the bones “taped” together, connecting bone to bone. The discs between each spinal segment (vertebra) provide cushion like shock absorbers. Bone never sits on bone, there is always a cushion in-between.

At each end of a muscle is a tendon attachment to a bone. Thereby creating a lever system with which to move the skeleton, ultimately moving the body: walking, reaching, bending and/or rotation.

Good posture, or “neutral” position for the spine is very important because it keeps all of these structures in the positions of least stress and most strength. Every segment and structure is in the right position to perform its job and evenly distribute the stresses and workloads of everyday living; like a team when every member performs her job well. When the body is sitting, standing, playing, working, or resting for long periods of time in poor postures some of the team members are working overtime and some aren’t doing their job at all. Pain will most likely be the eventual outcome.

A decline or loss of flexibility and physical strength (fitness) will likewise have an impact on the body’s ability to prevent back or neck pain. If a body lacks the mobility or strength to move correctly, the cumulative effect of poor movement patterns or weakness will result in structural overload and eventual pain.

Stress is a topic unto itself, however it deserves attention regarding back and neck discomfort or pain. Stress or high anxiety can also be cumulative. It creates physiological mechanisms that will amplify and exaggerate pain levels. Self care and minimizing stress are keys to empowering oneself to be mindful of factors contributing to your back pain.

Back basics requires some self-observation, tuning into your body, slowing down a little, and paying attention. At Healing Bridge Physical Therapy we teach self care strategies and self-reliance to manage and prevent back and neck pain. Together with your physical therapy treatments you will be taught simple straight forward interventions. We also offer our Back and Neck Basics class. Patients participate in this one time only, it is offered once a month for all of our back, neck and spine patients.

One thing is certain. You have the power to minimize or prevent some of your back and neck pain. You have the power to cultivate your healthiest self. Let’s get started with it today!

A Quick and Simple De-stressor

Sit with good postural support (a small pillow behind your low back will help)

Feet on the ground, give your weight to the chair and to the floor.

Now – take a deep slow breath, fill up your belly, then your chest.

Exhale slowly. If it helps think of “square breathing”, inhale a slow count of 4, hold for count of four, exhale a slow count of 4.

Do this 4 times. 4 X 4 breathing!