Doc, What Does My Neck Have To Do With My Low Back Pain?

It is no surprise that we see a lot of people coming into our office complaining of low back pain. It may be surprising that HALF of all working Americans admit to having low back pain each year (1). Back pain is one of the most common reasons for missed work.  In fact, back pain is the second most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office, outnumbered only by upper-respiratory infections. With such a high percentage of people complaining of these issues, the cost of low back pain is estimated to be around $50 billion dollars annually, which doesn’t take into account missed work wages or reduced productivity.

While many times low back pain is due to a physiological cause (injury) located in the low back, many cases are actually the result of damage found elsewhere in the spine. It is unlikely that your knee will have pain due to an underlying shoulder problem. The spine is much different. While it is made up of 24 individual bones (vertebrae), they act as a singular functional unit, one area having a distinct effect on other areas.

One of the ways that your body works is that your body goes where your head leads it. One of the most common types of spinal and postural dysfunctions that I see is misalignments of the position of the head and upper neck. The most common of which is when the head moves forward of its ideal position. Studies show that for each inch forward the head moves,  it affects the body as if it were increasing by 10 pounds of weight (2).

The effects of a forward head posture can include any of the following:

Arm Pain Migraine Headaches
Bone Spurs Muscle Tension
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Muscular Imbalance
Cervical Stenosis Neck Pain
Decreased Range of Motion Numbness & Tingling
Degenerative Disc Disease Pinched Nerve
Degenerative Joint Disease Poor Posture
Digestive Conditions (Including Reflux) Rotator Cuff Issues
Dizziness (Cervicogenic Vertigo) Shoulder Uneveness
Dowager’s Hump Shouler Pain
Fatigue Sinus Conditions
Fibromyalgia Spinal Decay
Golfer’s Elbow Strength Impairment
Headaches Tennis Elbow
Hearing Difficulties Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
Low Back Pain TMJ
Middle Back Pain Vision Issues

While a forward head shift is the most common direction for the this area to misalign. It is very common to see the head shift and/or tilt to the side as well. This often occurs in conjunction with a forward head shift creating a scenario that creates a lot of problems for the neck and its structures. It also forces the rest of the body to compensate in various ways that create dysfunction throughout the body. This dysfunction can create symptoms that may not be anywhere near the upper neck, where the problem actually begun.

Head Tilt disrupts joints, muscles, ligaments, neurological and vascular tissue.

Head Tilt disrupts joints, muscles, ligaments, neurological and vascular tissue.

It is cases like these that we see regularly. The patient has lower back pain as their main concern. While evaluating the entire spine, we discover that the main source of their issue lies near the top of their neck. It is often challenging for the person in pain to understand that our correction needs to be focused so far away from the location of their pain. Many doctors, including chiropractors, may not perform a detailed enough analysis to discover the underlying cause and may “treat” the low back for years with limited success.

Someone who has chronic lower back pain and has found little long term success in their treatments may want to consider being evaluated for the possible presence of an upper neck problem as it could be the key to long term success and stabilization. At Principled Chiropractic, we offer free consultations that may help in determining if this type of issue is present. Call (561) 791-2225 to learn more.



1. Vallfors B. Acute, Subacute and Chronic Low Back Pain: Clinical Symptoms, Absenteeism and Working Environment. Scan J Rehab Med Suppl 1985; 11: 1-98.

2. Kapandji (2008) Physiology of the Joints, Volume 3

Author Info

Andrew Biggs, D.C.

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