Whether it’s acute or chronic, the advent of back and neck pain can be seriously detrimental to living a normal and healthy life.

To begin, “acute” pain refers to that which appears suddenly, is sharp and jarring and most often related to tissue damage. It can last from minutes and hours to weeks and months, and when left untreated can sometimes lead to “chronic” pain. Chronic pain continues to plague an individual for long periods of time, and can be the result of a previous injury that didn’t heal properly or an unidentified medical condition. This type of pain is aching and dull and penetrates deeply, often spreading into the extremities.

The source of most pain occurring in the neck and back lies within the muscles of the body. Mild to moderate injuries cause tensions, cramps and spasms that result in pain in these areas, as does poor posture, which stresses the spine into an abnormal position and distributes weight unevenly. Conditions such as arthritis can also cause pain in the neck and back, as can muscle strains, unnatural compressions on the nerves of the spinal column and injury to or degeneration of the vertebral discs.

Vertebral discs are the different sections of the spine. Making up the cervical (neck), thoracic (upper back) and lumbar (lower back) portions of the column, the discs separate vertebrae and provide for the absorption of shock by cushioning these areas. Made of an elastic material that is strong but still flexible enough to allow the spine to move naturally, a disc has two components: the outer wall, or annulus fibrosis, and the soft material inside that wall known as the nucleus pulposis.

Although strong and flexible, vertebral discs are still prone to damage through injury and the stresses of aging. And when damage occurs in the disc’s annulus fibrosis, tears near sensitive nerves may lead to pain. Additionally, as damage progresses the nucleus pulposis can push through to the disc wall, creating pressure that leads to pain around the affected disc. Known as a herniation or rupture, the increased pressure can cause pain to radiate downward into the legs.

Of course, any treatment for back and neck pain will depend on the severity of the pain and where it’s located. Some treatments may take the form of simple rest and a temporary ceasing of strenuous activity, whereas in other circumstances medication, physical therapy or surgery may be required.