Sharp, Achy or Dull – Your Guide for Understanding Back Pain


Back pain is a widely common condition. Despite how many people experience it throughout their lifetime, it remains a very personal experience.  Back pain can vary based on many different factors.

Your back and spine are strong as well as flexible, while they protect one of the most important parts of your body – the spinal cord.  Your back is consists of many components that can experience pain. 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 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 the affected tissues.  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 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.

Chiropractic and Back Pain

The research on back pain and chiropractic care suggests that chiropractic can be a cost-effective and beneficial alternative for low back pain (LBP) compared to physical therapy (PT) for adults with at least three weeks of LBP over six months.

A study showed that patients who saw a chiropractor as their initial provider for LBP had 90% decreased pain.

Additionally, research indicates that chiropractic care can help relieve pain and improve function in people with acute low-back pain, which is one of the most common types of back pain.

Back Pain and Neck Problems Frequently 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. This is because the upper neck is the area of the spine that is most vulnerable to injuries and has the most far-reaching effects. Upper neck misalignments create head tilt which can lead to compensations throughout the rest of the spine. This is why many people with chronic back pain can never find relief because they are addressing where the symptoms are but not where the cause of the problem is.

Here is how this can happen:

  1. 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.
  2. When the atlas misaligns, it causes the head to shift 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.
  3. 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.

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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 specialist 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.

Find An Upper Cervical Doctor in Your Area

to schedule a consultation today.

Find an Upper Cervical Specialist In Your Area

to schedule a consultation today.

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The content and materials provided in this web site are for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to supplement or comprise a medical diagnosis or other professional opinion, or to be used in lieu of a consultation with a physician or competent health care professional for medical diagnosis and/or treatment. All content and materials including research papers, case studies and testimonials summarizing patients' responses to care are intended for educational purposes only and do not imply a guarantee of benefit. Individual results may vary, depending upon several factors including age of the patient, severity of the condition, severity of the spinal injury, and duration of time the condition has been present.