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What is acute pain, and why do I have it in my neck and (or) back?

Acute back pain is pain that has been present for four weeks or less. Pain flare-ups can occur from aggressive activities and seemingly minor incidents as well. Aggressive activities could include heavy lifting, motor vehicle collisions, and sporting injuries. More minor incidents could consist of playing with and caring for a child, coughing or sneezing, household chores, or even the first step out of bed in the morning.

Should I go to the ER for acute pain?

Generally, most people dealing with acute pain do not need to go to an Emergency Room. Instead, they should call their primary physician or visit an urgent care facility. Fortunately, true spine emergencies are rare, though they must be considered in cases of significant trauma, recent spine surgery, or loss of nerve function.woman with neck pain

What can I do from home?

A variety of nonmedication-based treatments are available. Both heat and cold have been options for pain relief. While cold helps control inflammation and swelling, it can cause increased muscle tightness and subsequent spasms. Heat can help increase blood flow and decrease muscle tightness and spasms but can increase swelling and inflammation. It can be reasonable to try both. 

Exercise has proven to have a beneficial effect on chronic low back pain, and it has been shown to help prevent back pain. Let pain be your guide and remember to use common sense. 

What about medicine?

Several over-the-counter medications can and should be considered if the symptoms are too difficult to manage. Consider the following medications:

  •  Acetaminophen
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (ibuprofen or naproxen, for example)

Is there anything I shouldn’t do?

Bed rest can cause significant deconditioning very quickly, and especially in the elderly population. Additionally, this deconditioning makes remobilization after the flare-up has subsided very challenging and can impact the long-term outcome.

What next?

Suppose adequate improvement is not obtained, and acute pain persists despite the strategies discussed above. In that case, the treatments your doctor may recommend can vary greatly depending on many factors. These factors might include your medical history and activity history, findings on your physical examination, and even prior imaging study findings. Usually, after four weeks, if significant discomfort persists, presenting to your medical doctor is essential. They can help you decide if you need x-rays or other studies and help you get back on your feet with some different strategies. 



You can visit for more information on an array of spine health topics.



This article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to treat or diagnose. It is not a replacement for care from a qualified healthcare provider. 

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