A combination of neck and lower back pain may be related to a single source process or 2 separate symptomatic origins. Although at opposite ends of the vertebral column, neck pain is often experienced simultaneously with lower back pain, as well as in alternating fashion in many patients. The degree of each pain syndrome might be equal, or one might be far worse than the other, depending on a variety of case-specific circumstances.
Lower back pain is the single most common type of dorsalgia. However, neck pain is not far behind. Both of these regions of the spine are subjected to severe degenerative processes as part of their normal lives and the neck, in particular, is highly susceptible to traumatic injury, as well. The full catalog of possible causes of both neck and lower back symptoms is vast and incredibly diverse.
This discussion focuses on the occurrence of neck and lower back pain conditions that occur together or in alternating episodes. We will detail singular causes of both sets of symptoms, as well as a selection of individual causations of pain in each region. Finally, we will share some personal stories of lower back and neck pain to demonstrate how interesting these conditions can truly be from a clinical point of view.
Neck and Lower Back Pain Singular Causation
Some combined pain syndromes in the neck and lumbar region are the result of a single causative process. This possible explanation for pain can be structural or functional, offering a realm of explanations for the 2 seemingly unrelated pain syndromes to exist due to a singular source:
Central spinal stenosis can compress the spinal cord in the neck, creating symptoms locally at the compression site, as well as virtually anywhere in the body below the level of cord compression. Often, symptoms are experienced in the lower back, buttocks and legs as lumbar dorsalgia and sciatica.
Widespread muscular problems can create pain in the neck and lower back, since all of the postural muscles are inter-related in form and function. When one suffers mechanical failure, imbalance or injury, the remainder can suffer collateral effects, immediately or eventually.
Disease processes can affect tissues in the neck and lower back. These diseases might be systemic or targeting specific types of cells, such as nerves or muscles.
Postural and functional issues that affect leg length, gait, spinal alignment and anatomical tilting can all have collateral effects on the entire backbone, possibly setting the stage for painful symptoms at the furthest ends of the spine where misalignments will be most consequential.
Wide-ranging scoliosis (cervicothoracolumbar) can affect the neck, and lower back together, although symptomatic cases are rare.
Ischemia pain conditions can target any tissues of the body and cause incredibly widespread pain, such as that found in fibromyalgia patients. Patients who express pain in the neck and lower back suffer from some of the most common of all combination location oxygen deprivation conditions.
Lower Back and Neck Pain from Multiple Causation
As noted in the introduction, the neck and lower back suffer the most marked and early onset of the spinal degenerative processes. Additionally, the neck is especially prone to suffering hyperextension and hyperflexion injury due to many possible events. Therefore, both regions might develop individual pain conditions that happen to exist together or in alternating fashion, without any direct relationship to the other’s causative process.
Some of the possible source processes for these individual pain conditions include pathological herniated discs, foraminal stenosis, arthritic accumulations, spinal curvature abnormalities and traumatic injuries. All of the factors noted above may be responsible for enacting pain in any given location, while another process is symptomatic at the opposite end of the vertebral column. For more information about the exhaustive range of possible origins of these painful expressions, we recommend reading our neck pain causes section, as well as the resource section detailing the causes of lower back pain on our related website Low-Back-Pain.Org.
Neck and Lower Back Pain Experiences
As Editor-in-Chief of The Cure Back Pain Network, I have made my story well known on all of our web resources. However, there are parts of it that are still shocking to me in retrospect and might be useful to your own research and recovery efforts:
My back pain journey began so young at the age of 16 with horrible lumbar symptoms that were linked to movement of my neck. This original mechanism of action was basically ignored by my early care providers, who focused on the region where the pain was actually experienced, rather than paying any attention to the act of mobilization which sourced it. At this naive and tender age, I did not have the cognitive ability to challenge them, even though I clearly remember thinking that they were making some sort of mistake by disregarding the action that enacted the pain…
I went into long-term treatment for scoliosis (Which turned out to be a completely incorrect diagnosis) and various disc issues at L4/L5 and L5/S1, which I later learned were basically universally experienced. For decades, I had recurrent neck symptoms of a lesser variety, but was told that these were a result of “sympathetic action of my spine adjusting”. Well, eventually I discovered that I had very old herniated discs at C2/C3, C3/C4, C4/C5, C5/C6, C6/C7, C7/T1, T1/T2, T2/ T3, T3/T4 and T4/T5. 2 of these discs were markedly imprinting on my spinal cord and apparently had been doing so for a very long time.
You can read the rest of my story on the various sites of The Cure Back Pain Network, but I wanted to include this except as a warning to patients to take causative roles and always insist on full investigation of combination pain syndromes in the neck and lower back. There is often more than one reason for these pain syndromes and what is considered secondary pain by some clueless caregivers might actually be very significant and treatable conditions of a primary causative nature. Be careful!