Most of the time when patients experience neck or back pain, they assume it is a muscle causing the symptom and they may not be wrong.  They may not be completely correct either.  When injury or inflammation occurs in the spinal joints or the discs, the overlying muscle “splints” or tightens up in order to protect the underlying structure.  That is why a painful area will often be accompanied by a tight muscle or a muscle spasm.  So how do you differentiate between types of pain to tell if you have a muscle, joint, disc or even nerve injury?

Ranges of motion are where I start.  Bending the neck forward and backward and bending forward and backward at the waist differentiates between a disc injury or a spinal joint injury.  Acute pain when bending forward is usually disc related.  Acute pain when bending backward is usually spinal joint related.

Nerve injuries are usually expressed with sharp, shooting pain an  d/or burning.  It will radiate into the upper back or arms if it is a nerve in the neck, or into the buttocks or legs if it is a nerve in the low back.

In each of these instances, the musculature overlying the inflamed tissue will be tight and sore as well.

With an injury that is purely muscle; bending away   from the area of muscle pain will make it worse.  For instance; if the right side of the neck has a muscle injury bending to the left will make it feel worse (lengthens the muscle).  Whereas, bending to the right would shorten the muscle (take pressure off of it) and not make it feel worse.

We are available to help with any of these conditions, or to find someone to help you, should you need us at 919-562-0302.

Dr. Phelan

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