Managing My Condition

The spine is a complex interweaving of muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, discs, nerves, and cartilage.

Clearly, a preventive approach would be ideal by practicing good back habits before you feel pain. But, after the pain has started, you need to know what to do to regain as much movement as possible and to help prevent further injury.

Your healthcare providers can help you get relief from your pain, discomfort, or other symptoms.

Your doctor may prescribe conservative forms of treatment for you. He or she may recommend self-care measures such as resting, applying ice or heat, or taking medication.

In addition, your doctor may suggest you see a physical therapist who can teach you ways to care for your back or neck.


These formfitting jackets look like corsets, and help support and immobilize the spine. Neck braces hold the chin at a level or slightly lowered position and support the neck muscles and cervical area. Braces are usually used during the healing phases immediately following an injury or surgery. If they are used continually after this phase, they may lead to muscle atrophy and more pain, especially when the brace is not worn. This happens because the brace begins to take over supportive work of the muscles, and the body begins to depend on the brace to hold your head or body up, instead of on the underlying muscles.

Traction is used to straighten and stretch the soft tissue around the facet joints in order to straighten the spine. This may be helpful for pulling the vertebrae slightly apart to allow a herniated disc in the back or neck to heal. This is helpful primarily during the initial healing phases of an injury or surgery, not as a solution for a chronic condition.

TENS • Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation
These devices can perform a useful function by providing an alternate tingling sensation to the pain that blocks the pain signal to the brain. Point stimulation, a newer form of electrical stimulation, may work similarly to acupuncture in providing pain relief. All forms of electrical stimulation can be placed at trigger points or at the site of pain.

Heat can be applied in different ways. Hot towels or heating pads applied directly to the pain site or hot baths can increase blood flow and soothe tensed and spasming muscles. Moist heat generally penetrates more deeply.

Cold can also be beneficial for back or neck pain, especially if your condition has been determined to include inflammation. Many people have found that ice seems to “numb” the painful area, providing at least temporary relief. Gel packs are available that can be frozen or heated, depending on what feels best to you. Some gel packs are made to freeze to a consistency like gelatin so that the pack can conform to the body. For some people, lightly rubbing the painful area with an ice block until numbness occurs is more effective than a cold pack because of the more intense stimulation.

Many people with neck or back pain can get some relief or increase their activity by paying attention to posture and positioning. When you have a back or neck injury, poor posture may create excess strain (caused by gravity) that keeps your pain at an unbearable level. Your healthcare provider can teach you how to stand, sit, and walk in ways that reduce the strain on your spine and reduce pain. Many physical and occupational therapists teach movement classes that teach you proper postures and safe ways of moving. Physical therapists can suggest cushions or other devices that can help you improve your ability to do daily activities with less pain. Occupational therapists can perform an analysis of your workstations to help you design an ergonomically correct system.

Exercise is critical in rehabilitating your back or neck. It can help you relax muscles and prevent stiffness. Stretching and strengthening help your muscles to increase their ability to absorb shock and strain, and to decrease the tendency to spasm. You will need to check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program. A physical therapist, exercise physiologist, or athletic trainer can also provide expert assistance.