How Spine Pain Can Affect the Rest of Your Body
How Spine Pain Can Affect the Rest of Your Body
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When your back or neck hurts, it can be hard to focus on much else. One reason the pain can be difficult to live with is because your spine plays a central role in supporting the rest of your body. Any disruption to an otherwise healthy back or neck can have a domino effect.

“The spine is highly interconnected with the nervous system to coordinate things like body movements and positioning,” explains Gregory Smith, D.O., a spine and neurosurgeon on the medical staff at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth and with Texas Health Neurosurgery and Spine Specialists, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice. “Typically, when someone has a spine issue it affects other areas in close proximity, like joints of the legs, but it can have an impact almost anywhere in the body.”

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Gregory Smith, M.D.

Some examples Smith offers include headaches and shoulder problems that can stem from neck pain and bursitis (inflammation) in the hip or back that can result from having low back pain. “Everything is a balance and when one thing is off, it affects everything else,” he says.

Smith’s colleague at Texas Health Neurosurgery and Spine Specialists and fellow spine and neurosurgeon on the medical staff at Texas Health Fort Worth Adrian Harvey, D.O., adds that while most everyone experiences back pain from time to time, leaving persistent pain to get better on its own may only lead to other problems or worsening of the original condition.

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Adrian Harvey, D.O.

“A day of gardening or carrying heavy laundry up and down stairs may lead to soreness or temporarily limit range of motion,” Harvey says. “The symptoms should resolve with rest. However, prolonged back pain is sometimes indicative of something more serious. Seeking the proper help and diagnosis before back pain gets out of hand is the best way to proceed.”

If left to linger, here’s how spine pain may affect your overall health and wellbeing:

Your Musculoskeletal System

Spine pain can cause muscle tension and stiffness in surrounding muscles, leading to decreased flexibility and range of motion, muscle imbalance and even muscle spasms. When it comes to the joints of the body, Smith notes these other impacts:

  • Feet. Gait is the way you walk. A good walking posture disperses stress through the feet but when gait changes due to back pain, there can be added pressure put on certain parts of the foot, such as the arch or ankle.
  • Hips. The hips are one of the first areas to be affected by back pain due to proximity. As the body naturally shifts stress away from the aching back, it falls on the pelvis and puts undue pressure on the hip joints.
  • Neck. Posture comes into play when looking at how lower back pain can travel upward to the neck. Low back pain may cause you to stoop at the waist (often without realizing it), placing more pressure on the neck.
  • Shoulders. Many of the muscles that control the shoulder lie close to the spine.

Your Nervous System

The spine houses the spinal cord, which is an essential part of the nervous system. If the spinal cord or nerves branching from it are compressed or irritated due to spine disease or trauma, you may feel it in your arms or legs with radiating pain, numbness, tingling or weakness.

“For example, a herniated disk in the lower back can compress the sciatic nerve that runs from the lower spine down the back of each leg, leading to an intense radiating pain in the leg,” Harvey says.

Your Posture and Balance

As noted earlier, spine pain can alter your posture as you try to compensate for the discomfort. Poor posture can, in turn, lead to muscle imbalances, joint strain, decreased mobility and increased stress on various body parts.

“Depending on the severity and location of spine pain, it can limit your ability to perform even basic activities like bending, lifting or twisting to potentially contribute to the development of musculoskeletal conditions and, ultimately, become a quality-of-life issue,” Smith explains.

Your Psychological Wellbeing

Chronic spine pain can take a toll on mental and emotional health by increasing stress, anxiety and depression. Such pain can also disrupt sleep to contribute to mood issues and fatigue.

Your Organ Function

In severe cases, spinal instability or nerve compression can potentially affect organ function. “Spine pain in the form of spinal stenosis or spondylosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal, in the neck area can compress the spinal cord and impact functioning of the upper extremities and possibly bladder or bowel function,” Harvey notes.

When to See a Spine Specialist

If you have pain in the neck, mid back or low back for a period of a few weeks or more that hasn’t responded well to treatments like anti-inflammatory medication, rest, physical therapy, or chiropractic or osteopathic care, it may be time to be evaluated by a spine surgeon. An accurate diagnosis is the key to getting an effective treatment plan for a back or neck problem, Smith explains. “This should be delivered by a spine specialist — the only specialist with training to properly evaluate and treat spine issues. From here, a spine surgeon can usually guide treatment with different modalities, including surgery, in more severe cases.”

Learn more about your spine health by taking the Back Health Assessment to measure your back pain, or visit for more information.

Ready to schedule an appointment? Find a back and spine specialist on the medical staff near you.

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