Spinal Pain Patterns Offer Clues to Solutions

  • Every painful spine has a pattern. Do you know your pattern? By knowing when it hurts and when it feels better, you can then figure out how to control your spine pain better. Most spines fit into one of two patterns. Pain that is triggered by extension or pain that is triggered by flexion. Let’s break it down into more detail


    Extension-triggered pain presents itself in a variety of ways depending on which part of the spine hurts. If the neck is sensitive to extension, then activities like looking up at a ceiling, the sky or looking through the bottom portion of a bifocal lenses will cause the pain to get worse. This type of pain in the neck is usually related to arthritis in the facet joints of the cervical spine. Improving extension-triggered neck pain is accomplished by tucking the chin closer to the chest, strengthening the anterior neck flexor muscles and avoiding looking up.

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    Extension-triggered pain in the low back usually feels worse when walking or standing. This spinal pain pattern is classic for lumbar spinal stenosis. While in an upright, vertical position, the posterior column of the lumbar spine is loaded. With the extra load, the facet joints and nearby nerves can become quite painful while walking or standing. This pain is eased when leaning on a shopping cart and by building a stronger abdominal wall.


    The opposite of extension-triggered pain is flexion triggered pain. Like extension-triggered pain, flexion pain can be felt in different levels of the spine. Those with neck pain triggered by flexion might experience more pain while reading a book or looking down at something for a sustained period of time. Workstation adjustments can help to maintain a neutral neck position and eliminate pain. For example, raising the computer monitor to eye-level is a key solution for neck pain triggered by flexion.


    In the low back, flexion-triggered pain often occurs while sitting. This type of pain usually means that a disc is contributing to the pain experience in some way like bulging and pressing on a nerve. For this type of pain, lumbar supports can help while sitting because they support the natural lumber curve and prevent slouching. Additionally, the McKenzie exercises can help to relieve disc pressure and pain.



    By examining your pain patterns, you might be able to improve the way your spine feels. Adjusting your movement patterns, workstation and furniture can help to capitalize on what makes your pain better. Strengthening the right muscle groups can also support your spine in a more comfortable posture that is either less flexed or less extended. The pain patterns of your spine offer significant clues to better solutions.

Published On: July 11, 2014