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Types of Back and Neck Pain

Understand Back Pain Terms and Categorizations


Updated July 24, 2014

Types of back pain vary according to how you describe them.  Below is a list of the most common ways to categorize spine problems.

  • Acute or Chronic
    • Acute is a word used to describe an injury or illness that comes and goes. Acute injuries come on quickly, have very definite symptoms which can be quite intense, and heal in a relatively brief period of time, usually around 6 weeks. Often, and unfortunately, acute injuries to the back or neck can be the precursor to chronic pain.
    • Chronic pain is also referred to as persistent pain. Doctors generally categorize pain as chronic if the same type of pain in the same place has lasted more than between 3 and 6 months.
  • Specific Back Pain or Non-Specific Back Pain
    • Specific back pain is back pain that is attributable to identifiable conditions such as those listed below. According to the National Pain Foundation, less than 15 percent of diagnosed back pain cases can be attributed to a particular cause.

      Back Pain Conditions
    • Non-specific back pain might come from muscles or other vertebral structures. Often non-specific back pain responds well to conservative treatment. The National Pain Foundation has further subcategorized non-specific back pain by type of body system or process causing the pain:
      • Musculoskeletal (includes all soft tissue)- Nocioceptive pain is caused when there is irritation to muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments and/or fascia. The presence of irritation causes the nervous system to send messages to the brain about damage to the soft tissue and bony structures. (It is about this time when your doctor suggests asprin to control inflammation.) The brain then responds by sending out chemicals meant to contain the damage. The brain also sends pain signals.
      • Neuropathy means nerve pain. Neuropathy is a type of back pain that is caused by a pinched nerve or other radiculopathy. Examples of neuropathy include:
      • Discogenic pain is pain from an intervertebral disk that does not cause symptoms of numbness, tingling, pins and needles or pain down the legs or arms.
  • Anatomical Region
    Back pain can be divided up into locations along the spine. This is the way most non-medical people refer to their back pain concern. The most common terms for back pain based on anatomical location are:

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