Neurology Insights

Understanding Neck & Back Pain: Your Guide to Symptom Relief

Woman holding onto her shoulder and lower back indicating neck and back pain

If you are someone who has experienced recurring neck and back pain for “no particular reason,” you are not alone. Each year, millions of Americans suffer from unidentified neck and back pain. And for many, it may take months to years before they contact a physician or seek a proper diagnosis. If you find yourself wondering whether your neck or back pain is temporary tension or something else (“stress”), know you’re not alone. Living with pain is an option, not an obligation.

The following guide will offer you insights into neck and back pain and immediate action steps you can take to address your pain points.

Where is my pain coming from?

Neck and back pain have a common root: they are both connected to the body’s neurological system. When you feel pain, the sensations you feel are pain signals stemming from the neck or back that are transmitted through the nerves. These signals alert your brain and body that something’s not right.

And that “something” can be a myriad of factors, including spinal instability, nerve dysfunction, muscle injury, tissue inflammation, or disease.

Your neurologist can pinpoint whether the pain originates from a muscle, nerve, or both through diagnostic testing.

Addressing Neck & Back Pain

Neck and back pain can be among the most frustrating symptoms to experience, as they can limit mobility and interfere with everyday life. Symptoms can be just mild enough to put you in a bad mood or severe enough to prevent you from doing the activities you love.

When addressing any pain symptom, I always ask my patients to take the following first step: Keep a record of symptoms.

Here are a few details to keep in mind when recording your symptoms:


Time and place: Do you notice pain first thing in the morning or during a particular activity? I.e., driving, sitting at a desk, lifting, exercising, etc.

This will help your doctor identify potential triggers.

Coinciding symptoms: Do you notice any other symptoms that also come along with the pain? This can include migraine, anxiety, numbness, tingling, etc.

Duration/Severity: How often and how long do symptoms typically last, and how severe is the pain?

Onset:  When did the pain begin, what were you doing when the pain had its initial onset, and were there any specific triggering events, such as car accident, trip and fall, sneeze, etc.

Symptoms and Concerns of Neck & Back Pain

Pinpointing the origin of neck and back pain can be challenging, especially if it is not a direct result of a recent event or injury. In some cases, pain symptoms can show up months to years after injury or a past car accident. It is also possible that symptoms are felt in a different location than where the problem lies; known as referred pain.

Depending on whether the pain originates via the muscle or nerve, neck and back pain symptoms may vary slightly. For instance, muscle pain is typically associated with “dullness or aching” and nerve pain with “sharpness”; however, both will generally present as the following symptoms:


  • Stiffness and reduced mobility
  • Dull or tight aching pain located at the site of concern
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Burning and pins & needle sensations
  • Episodes of shooting or sharp pain
  • Radicular pain (pain that begins at the site of concern, i.e., the lower back, and extends to the buttocks and leg)
  • Coinciding symptoms such as headaches, etc.

When to see your Neurologist for Neck & Back Pain

For acute neck and back pain, relief can be found through several lifestyle changes at home. This can include gentle stretching, restorative rest, posture improvement, hot/cold therapy, and more. Most people find manageable relief through over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication or natural remedies such as turmeric / ginger supplementation in the event of a pain episode.

However, if you have been living with lingering neck and back pain for more than six weeks that does not seem to go away with these efforts, then obtaining a proper diagnosis can save you time and discomfort.

Your neurologist will be able to evaluate your unique condition, using several diagnostic and imaging techniques to determine the pain source accurately.

Medical imaging techniques such as MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), EMG (Electromyography), and NCS (Nerve Conduction Studies) are just a few ways in which a diagnosis, along with effective treatment options, such as physical or chiropractic therapy, may be made.

For a deeper look into diagnosing chronic pain, feel free to visit:

Decoding Chronic Pain

At-Home Tips & Stretches

Are you feeling stiff, tight, or achy? The following neurology office tips and tutorials provide simple stretches that you can try from the comfort of your own home!

Incorporate the following stretches into your daily routine for increased flexibility and strength.

Drawing demonstrating a back stretch for flexibility. Person is sitting in the chair leaning forward with their hands flat on the ground.

Posture Tips

Neck & Back Exercises

Pilates video with Dr. Kandel

Spinal Tips: Exercises for your Neck, Back & Spine

A Message From Dr. Kandel

“Suffering with neck and back pain is never truly an option. I ask all of my patients, “if it was chest pain, would you just ignore it or wait until it’s either gone or it causes a major problem?” If the answer is no, then you also should not suffer with your spine pain. Seeing a neurology specialist can help expedite your diagnosis, expedite your care, and ultimately lead to pain relief, and a dramatic improvement in the quality of your life. And after all, don’t you deserve that?”

Dr. Joseph Kandel portrait

Joseph Kandel, MD

Board Certified Neurologist
Serving Naples and Fort Myers, FL

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“To Cure Sometimes, To Heal Often, To Comfort Always”

Neurology Office, Joseph Kandel M.D. and Associates

Concierge medicine without the concierge price”

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