Best Practices for Treating Back and Neck Symptoms

Understanding Back and Neck Symptoms

Every year more people seek medical care for back and neck pain than for any other condition except the common cold. An estimated 31 million adults suffer from back pain, and back problems account for an estimated 40 percent of all recorded workplace injuries. Other symptoms may include weakness, numbness or limited range of motion in the back or neck.

Common causes of back and neck symptoms include:

  • Strains and sprains
  • Degenerative disc or joint disease
  • Herniated disc, sometimes called a slipped, bulged or ruptured disc
  • Fracture – often as a result of injury or osteoporosis
Red Flag Indicators

If you experience any of the following symptoms, notify your doctor right away as these may require immediate referral or intervention:

  • New or recent bowel incontinence and/or bladder retention with progressive motor loss
  • Numbness or tingling in your perineal saddle area (the parts of your body that touch your chair while sitting) with loss of motion in your legs
  • Severe radiating pain in your arms or legs with progressive loss of motion
  • History of cancer with new or unexplained weight loss
  • Fever, chills or recent infection with sudden pain or numbness in your arms or legs
  • Sudden onset of severe, unprovoked back pain that does not relieve when you change positions

Diagnostics: Getting to the Cause of Your Symptoms

Relief begins with properly diagnosing the cause of your symptoms. Your provider may use some or all of the following tests to arrive at an accurate diagnosis:

Interpreting Spine Imaging Results

Many degenerative changes that show up in spine imaging are common among patients both with and without symptoms and tend to increase with age. Since these findings may be part of normal aging of the spine, they should be carefully interpreted by an expert in the context of your clinical condition. Some terms that you might see on an imaging report include:

  • disc degeneration
  • disc signal loss
  • disc height loss
  • disc bulge
  • disc protrusion
  • annual fissure
  • facet degeneration
  • spondylolisthesis

While these terms might sound serious, they do not necessarily indicate an abnormal condition requiring treatment. If you have any questions about your imaging report, be sure to ask the provider who ordered your test.

What is Best Practice?

Over the years there have been many guidelines and recommendations created regarding the "best" diagnosis and treatment options for neck or back pain. With so many different recommendations available, it can be confusing when trying to determine which treatment options will be most effective for you and your symptoms.

At MyMichigan Health, your treatment plan is guided by evidence-based practice. Evidence-based practice is the use of the most current research and best available data to help guide practice decisions, recommendations, and policies. MyMichigan follows spine care guidelines which were created based on best practice evidence for the diagnosis and treatment of back pain and spine concerns.

Treatment Options

Depending on the cause and severity of your symptoms, your provider may recommend one or more of the following treatments.

Self-Care and Conservative Strategies

  • Rest or modification of your activities, including ensuring you are getting adequate sleep
  • Over the counter medications such as acetominophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen sodium or topical analgesics, if indicated
  • Heat or ice
  • Gentle stretching
  • Modifying your posture while sitting, standing, lifting or sleeping


  • Spine and Pain Program - a balanced approach to pain treatment with a care plan tailored for each patient. Methods may include minimally invasive interventional procedures and medication management when appropriate.
  • Rehabilitation Services including physical therapy and occupational therapy.
  • Prescribed medications, including oral medications or injections
  • Vertebroplasty – an X-ray-guided injection of surgical bone cement to stabilize a collapsing vertebral body. MyMichigan has a neuroradiologist qualified in vertebroplasty.
  • Neurosurgery – MyMichigan has board-certified neurosurgeons who can perform a range of simple to complex spine procedures, including laminectomies, discectomies and fusions, with or without instrumentation.
  • Behavioral Health - to identify and manage stressors that may be contributing to your symptoms.

Talk to Your Doctor

If your symptoms have not resolved with rest or moderation of your activities, ask your doctor for a referral to MyMichigan's WellSpine program.

Ask Your Doctor

If you are experiencing back or neck symptoms such as pain, weakness, numbness or limited range of motion that do not resolve with rest and modification of your activities, ask your doctor for a referral to MyMichigan's WellSpine program.