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Back and Neck Pain

While many people associate neurosurgeons with the treatment of the brain, it is actually the case that approximately 70 percent of neurosurgery deals with issues of the spine. This includes the treatment of back and neck pain due to a variety of causes.

Neurosurgeons specialize in complex causes of lumbar or cervical pain (the technical terms for back and neck pain). However, their unparalleled training makes them highly qualified in non-surgical treatments as well. Neurosurgeons have the greatest amount of spinal surgery training of any other medical specialty and are the only specialty to treat the entire spine. They are experts in diagnosing back and neck conditions and working with patients to create and administer a successful treatment plan. When surgery is relevant for spinal conditions, today’s neurosurgeons benefit from exceptional advances in surgical techniques, particularly minimally invasive surgery.

Causes of Back Pain

Estimates are that as many as 80 percent of the population will at one time in their lives experience back pain. In fact, low back pain represents the most common cause of disability worldwide.

While the origin of back pain can be as simple as a strain or sprain, there are numerous other causes of varying degrees of severity. Conditions that can cause back pain include:

  • Bulging or ruptured disks
  • Sciatica
  • Arthritis
  • Skeletal irregularities, such as scoliosis
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Cervical radiculopathy (pinched nerve)
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Trauma, such as from accidents or injuries
  • Osteoporosis
  • Cauda equina syndrome
  • Cancer of the spine
  • Infections of the spine

Causes of Neck Pain

Neck pain can be debilitating to everyday life. There are a number of causes and conditions that result in neck pain. While some causes are minor, the pain can be related to serious causes such as an infection or disease, which can indicate a risk of nerve root or spinal cord damage.

Some of the causes listed above for back pain can also be the cause of neck pain. Causes of neck pain include:

  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Arthritis
  • Trauma (such as whiplash), caused by accident or injury
  • Cervical radiculopathy (pinched nerve)
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Cervical spondylosis
  • Meningitis

When Should You Consult a Neurosurgeon

Below are some of the indications that you should consider seeing a neurosurgeon to relieve your pain.

Persistent Pain – If your pain is still nagging after three to four weeks, it may be chronic. At this point, the earlier the diagnosis and treatment of your condition the better for solving the problem and aiding healing. In addition, if the pain results in the inability to function, it is also advisable to seek the earliest possible solution via evaluation by a professional.

Conservative Measures Are Not Helping – If you have tried non-surgical treatments, and the pain persists, it may be time to consult a neurosurgeon, specifically a spine specialist. This allows for a thorough evaluation and analysis of the condition, and if necessary, the consideration for spine surgery.

Your Symptoms Indicate Disc Problems – This includes sudden pain with movement, such as bending your lower back, or even a previous diagnosis of bulging or herniated discs that have not resolved on their own or with non-surgical measures.

You Have Experienced Trauma – A fall or an accident resulting in neck or back pain, even the onset of pain hours or several days afterward, may be the result of trauma.

You Are Older – Complications from various conditions increase with age. Certain conditions that lend themselves to back and neck pain, such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, are more common in the aging population.

You Have Symptoms that Should Be Addressed Urgently – These include difficulty controlling the bladder or bowel, or progressive weakening of the legs. These symptoms should be dealt with immediately, as they potentially indicate a medical emergency, such as cauda equina syndrome.

Other symptoms of neck pain that are more specific indications that it is time to see a neurosurgeon include:

  • Trauma (accident or blow) to the head
  • Numbness, weakness or tingling in the hands or arms
  • Pain extending down one arm
  • Headache or fever with neck pain
  • Leg weakness or uncoordinated movement of legs or arms
  • Pain does not improve with over-the-counter medication
  • Pain that shows no improvement after a week


An experienced spine surgeon will help make a diagnosis using a variety of methods. A thorough exam, including a medical history, may be combined with tests (e.g., MRI scan, CT scan, myelogram or discography). While a variety of non-surgical methods are available, surgery would only be considered if necessary. Minimally invasive surgery is used whenever possible.

The experts at Advanced Neurosurgery Associates utilize the most advanced methods of diagnosis and treatment for spinal disorders. Make an appointment today with Dr. Vivek Ramakrishnan for a consultation. Dr. Ramakrishnan has a uniquely specialized background with training in both neurosurgery and orthopaedic spine surgery.