Back pain is a widely common condition, and despite how many people experience it throughout their lifetime, it remains a very personal experience. Your back and spine are designed to be strong as well as flexible, all while protecting one of the most important parts of your body – the spinal cord. Your back is made up of many components that pain can be attributed to. There are bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and discs, all of which can become injured, irritated, and painful.
Characterizing Your Back Pain
There are a lot of factors that can contribute to back pain, and as such, it can take on a very broad variety of characteristics:
- Acute vs. Chronic: acute back pain happens suddenly and will usually go away within a few days to a few weeks. Back pain is considered chronic when it lasts for 3 months or longer.
- Constant vs. Comes and goes: some people will experience constant back pain that is difficult to find relief from. Others will have back pain that may come and go depending on factors like activity and sitting/standing/sleeping/working in certain positions.
- Sharp vs. Dull vs. Achy: the quality of back pain can vary based on which tissues are impacted. Sharp pain may be indicative of an inflamed joint capsule or a disc issue. Dull or achy pain can be related to degeneration, muscle strain, or overuse injury. Back pain can also be described as searing or burning and refer to other areas down the arms or legs, which may indicate the involvement of the nerves and nerve roots.
It’s easy to see why back pain can be so difficult to manage – it can feel so different from person to person. There is also a lot of overlap of the components of the back and spine which makes it difficult to pinpoint exactly where the problem is coming from.
Back Pain and Neck Problems Go Hand in Hand
Believe it or not back pain often has its roots in the neck, even if your neck doesn’t hurt or is less painful than other areas. Here is how this can happen:
- The uppermost bone in the neck, the atlas (C1), is the most freely movable segment in the entire spine. The head rests on top of the atlas and relies on it to experience a full range of movement. Since the atlas has such a wide range of motion and lacks the discs and interlocking joints that the rest of the spine has to protect it, it can be particularly vulnerable to misaligning as a result of injury or wear and tear.
- When the atlas misaligns, it causes the head to be carried in an abnormal position. In order to compensate for this and to level the eyes, your body will begin to drop one shoulder down which can cause pain and discomfort in the mid-back, particularly between the shoulder blades.
- If the shoulders are not able to bring the head back into a neutral position, the compensation will move further down to the hips and pelvis. One hip will raise up higher than the other. This abnormal muscular tension will irritate the lower back and you might notice that the joints on one side of the body – the hip, knee, and ankle – may all start to give you trouble as you start to bear your weight unequally from left to right.
Following these trends, it’s easy to see how a problem that starts at the top of the spine can have a trickle-down effect and begin to cause pain in other areas.
Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care Addresses the Root Cause of Back Pain
Upper cervical chiropractic care is a branch of chiropractic that focuses on the specific correction of the atlas. There are a number of different named techniques that fall under the upper cervical umbrella: NUCCA, Orthospinology, Knee Chest, Blair, Toggle Recoil, and Advanced Orthogonal, to name a few. While the methods of adjusting may differ between upper cervical chiropractic techniques, the overarching goal remains the same – to restore the normal positioning of the atlas (C1) and/or axis (C2) to improve the body’s natural ability to heal and function.
There are several key factors that make upper cervical chiropractic care unique:
- Specific diagnostic imaging: while it’s not uncommon for chiropractors to take x-rays of the spine, the views that upper cervical chiropractors take differ. These images allow for the construction of the most accurate adjustment possible for each individual. This degree of precision allows adjustments to be personalized and gentle.
- Low-force adjustments: upper cervical chiropractic care is known for its gentle, effective corrections. If you’re used to higher-force adjustments that require more forceful twisting or popping of the neck and spine, you’ll find upper cervical care to be very different.
- Adjustments that hold: upper cervical chiropractors want to give as few adjustments as needed in order to accomplish the desired results. If your alignment has held from the prior visit, it wouldn’t make sense to correct something that is maintaining its proper position. As adjustments hold for longer periods of time, visits can be spaced farther apart while still maintaining the benefits of care.
If you’re looking for a natural method of back pain relief, then it makes sense to start by addressing what might be the underlying cause. A great place to start would be to find an upper cervical chiropractor in your area and schedule a consultation. Taking that first step can set you on the right path towards feeling better, functioning better, and regaining your desired quality of life.