Chronic pain of any kind can be difficult to live with, but pain in the back and neck are among some of the worst of its kind, due to the amount of stress put on these areas just from daily activities as opposed to athletic exertion. 80-90% of people in the US experience back pain at some point in their lives, and it can come from a variety of different issues, including injury to spinal vertebrae, spinal discs, ligaments, and muscles.
While it is easy to be tempted to try and rest things off for a few days (and sometimes that does the trick), back and neck pain are not the kind of symptoms you want to ignore. Untreated back and neck pain can lead to a variety of different issues over time—here are some of the potential consequences.
Am I Running A Risk?
The exact complications that can result from a neck or back injury vary, but they all can lead to long-term issues if not handled properly. For example, let’s talk about whiplash, a neck injury that on the surface, seems to be on the light side of the spectrum. After all, it’s just a soft tissue injury, and doesn’t even show up on x-rays, right? Not entirely. If not treated, whiplash can go beyond the typical symptoms like neck pain, tinnitus, and vertigo, and extend into more serious issues, like chronic neck pain. In one study, 7.8% of the study participants “had not returned to usual level of activity or work” after one year due to issues like pain and stiffness. The fact that this can be difficult to initially detect is why so many people recommend you see a doctor after a car accident, despite if you feel okay.
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Chronic pain is the most common consequence of untreated neck and back pain, but that doesn’t mean it is something to be brushed off. Lower back pain is second only to the common cold in terms of causing lost work time, and this applies to both physical and non-physical work. You could be hurting your future earning potential by not keeping track of your pain, not to mention cutting back on your favorite athletic hobbies. Greater levels of disability are also associated with disruption of the sleep cycle and depression. Poor sleep, in particular, plays a role in a variety of different conditions. Perhaps the most disturbing thing is the cycle that sprouts in this case. Pain leads to disrupted sleep which leads to greater depression which leads to even more pain. It can be difficult for your lifestyle to recover from this.
In addition, if the source of your pain is more severe, so could what happens if you leave it untreated. For example, a vertebral fracture could result in nerve damage, soft tissue damage, as well as vertebral deformity if left unchecked. The only option left could be surgery if you reach this point.
One thing that you can take heart in regarding all this is the fact that 80% of back or neck problems can improve with nonsurgical treatment options. There are two main symptoms that may mean that you need surgery quickly: loss of control of the bladder or bowels or weakness and numbness in the neck or arm (not simple radiating pain). Both of these are rare, especially the former, but could lead to permanent nerve damage if not handled promptly.
What Should I Do?
It’s important to note that back and neck pain can stem from a variety of different situations and sources. In fact, in the case of some situations like a pinched nerve, where your symptoms are doesn’t necessarily indicate where the root of your pain is. As a result, your best weapon is knowledge, and the best way to get informed is a two-step process. A good place to get your general knowledge about your back and neck pain are industry specialists like the Back Pain Centers of America. However, before implementing a plan to try and target said pain, be sure to always get the opinion of a medical professional. Not acting on untreated back or neck pain can lead to future issues, but an improper reaction can be just as dangerous.