For most of us, when we hurt the low back while lifting, the pain starts at the lower spine. It’s usually not a difficult connection to make—that if it’s the low back that is strained, it is the low back that is injured. But in some cases, back pain seems to creep up or come out of nowhere. Sometimes you wake up with the pain and there was no trauma at all. In these cases, it is even more important to examine the entire spine for the cause of the problem.
The nervous system is enclosed within the bony spinal column and skull. Nerve signals travel from the brain to all distant areas of the body: to organs, muscles, etc. All of these nerves pass through the neck region, even the nerves to the legs. This is why an injury that affects the neck can have ramifications in the areas below. The nervous system is a communication link from brain to tissue, and when the nerve is pinched or irritated, there can be a break or miscommunication in the signal.
Most of us are aware that a person can become paralyzed from a bad neck injury, such as a fracture. But what is less well known is that minor sprains of the neck can have an effect on muscle tension and pain in the low back. Some chiropractic techniques specialize in only adjusting the upper portion of the neck because this area can have a profound effect on the entire body.
How neck problems can affect the low back is not well understood and is being researched. Some theories are that neck problems tend to cause changes in balance. People tend to sway a bit more when neck problems, such as whiplash, are present. Perhaps this lack of coordination of the muscles leads to poor recruitment of muscles when we lift.
Another theory is that if nerves are initially irritated at the top of the neck, they become more susceptible to pinch or irritation at other more distant regions of the spine. The spinal cord is also attached to the upper neck vertebrae. If twisting of the upper neck bones occurs, this can pull on the attachments which link to the cord. Disk protrusions in the neck can also compress the front of the cord, sometimes causing symptoms into the arms or legs.
A thorough examination by a doctor of chiropractic will determine if your low back condition is coming from a neck injury.