Back and Neck Pain
man with back pain


Low back pain can range from mild, dull, annoying pain, to persistent, severe, disabling pain. Pain in the lower back can restrict mobility and interfere with your normal functioning. Low back pain is one of the most significant health problems. Consider these statistics from the National Institutes of Health (NIH): 

  • Seventy to 85 percent of all people have back pain at some time in their life.
  • Back pain is the most frequent cause of activity limitation in people younger than 45 years old.

Neck Pain occurs in the area of the seven cervical vertebrae. Because of its location and range of motion, the neck is often left unprotected and subject to injury. Pain in the back or neck can be acute, which comes on sudden and intensely, or chronic, which can last for weeks, months, or even years. 

Even with today’s technology, the exact cause of back and neck pain is usually unknown. In most cases, back and neck pain may be a symptom of different sources, including any of the following: 

  • Overuse, strenuous activity, repetitive lifting.
  • Trauma, injury, or fractures
  • Degeneration of vertebrae, often caused by stresses on the muscles and ligaments that support the spine, or the effects of aging
  • Infection
  • Abnormal growth such as a tumor or bone spur
  • Obesity due to increase weight on the spine and pressure on the discs
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Muscle tension or spasm
  • Sprain or strain
  • Ligament or muscle tears
  • Joint problems such as arthritis
  • Protruding or herniated (slipped) disc and pinched nerve
  • Osteoporosis and compression fractures
  • Congenital (present at birth) abnormalities of the vertebrae and bones

Preventing Back and Neck Pain
The following may help to prevent back and neck pain:

  • Practicing correct lifting techniques
  • Maintainging an ergonomic workplace
  • Utilizing correct posture while sitting, standing, and sleeping
  • Participating in regular exercise (with proper stretching prior)
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Reducing emotional stress which may cause muscle tension

Rehabilitation for Back and Neck Pain
A back and neck pain rehabilitation program is designed to meet the needs of the individual patient, depending upon the type and severity of the pain, injury, or disease. Active involvement of the patient and family is vital to the success of the program. 

The goal of a back and neck rehabilitation program is to help the individual to return to the highest level of function and independence possible, while improving the overall quality of life. The focus of rehabilitation is on relieving pain and improving mobility (movement). 

In order to help reach these goals, our physical therapy programs may include the following: 

  • Exercise programs to improve range of motion, increase muscle strength, improve flexibility and mobility, and increase endurance 
  • Patient and family education
  • Pain management techniques
  • Gait (walking) and movement retraining
  • Stress management
  • Ergonomic assessments and work-related injury prevention programs

Generally, there are three phases to back and neck pain rehabilitation:

Phase I: During this initial phase, the physical therapist and treatment team focus Acute Phase on making a diagnosis, developing a treatment plan, and starting treatment to reduce the pain and inflammation. This may include gentle joint mobilization, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and taping techniques.

Phase II: Once the initial pain and inflammation are reduced, the physical therapist Recovery focuses on helping the patient restore normal function. This includes Phase returning the patient to normal daily activities, and starting an exercise program that is designed to help the patient regain flexibility and strength.

Phase III: The goal of this phase is two-fold: educating the patient on ways to Maintenance prevent further injury and strain to the back and neck, and phase strength and endurance.

Low Back Pain Conditions

Herniated Disc (“Slipped Disc”)
A herniated or “slipped disc” is a frequent cause of mild or moderate low back or leg pain. The soft flexible discs separate the bones in the spine. The discs, which have a rigid outside rim and a soft gel-like center, act as shock absorbers to protect the spinal cord. Activity, stress, or a mechanical problem in the spine can cause a disc to bulge. The damaged or bulging disc may pinch or irritate a nerve root, which can cause leg pain. 

Another common disorder of the lower spine is disc degeneration, or osteoarthritis is in the spine. As the body ages, the discs in the spine dehydrate or dry out, and lose their ability to act as shock absorbers. The bones and ligaments that make up the spine also become less flexible and thicken. Degeneration in the discs is normal and is not in itself a problem. But pain occurs when these discs or bone spurs begin to pinch and put pressure on the nearby nerve roots or spinal cord. 

The sciatic nerve, is composed of several lumbar nerve roots and can become irritated with a herniated disc. Each of the major branches of sciatic nerve travel through the pelvis and buttocks, down the hip, and along the back of the thigh to the foot. The pain of sciatica ranges from a mild tingling to a sharp ache. 

Lumbar spinal stenosis
Degeneration of the spine also can result in lumbar spinal stenosis (LSS). This disease involves a narrowing of the canal that houses the spinal cord and nerve roots. A narrowed spinal canal may compress nerve roots in the lower back, resulting in low back pain, and weakness in the legs. Patients often find relief by sitting or standing in a hunched over position, such as leaning on a shopping cart. Symptoms of LSS do not usually occur until after the age of 50. 

Degeneration in the spine also can lead to spondylolisthesis, a condition characterized by the slippage of a vertebra in the spine. One vertebra slips forward over another, stretching or pinching the nerves and causing low back pain. 

More articles

Cole Smith, PT, DPT

Doctor of Physical Therapy

Specialty: Orthopedic Conditions, Post-Operative Rehabilitation, Gait and Balance

  • University of North Georgia 2022 
  • GPT Start Year: 2022

Lydia Gailey, PT, DPT

Doctor of Physical Therapy

Specialty: Pelvic Floor Rehabilitation, Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction, Low Back Pain


  • University of North Georgia 2015
  • 7 years experience
  • GPT Start Year: 2017

Nicole Burkett, PT

Physical Therapist

Specialty: Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction and Low Back Pain, Cervical Pain, Balance Training

  • University of North Georgia 1997
  • 25 Years Experience
  • GPT Start Year: 2014

Sarah Edwards, PTA

Physical Therapist Assistant

Specialty: Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction 

Bio: Sarah has been with Gainesville Physical Therapy since 2004. She grew up in Athens, GA and graduated from Athens Technical College in 2004. She currently lives in Jefferson, GA with her two children and dogs. Sarah actively participates with cub scouts and enjoys outdoor activities like camping, hiking and swimming. Specialties include treatment of sacroiliac joint dysfunction and the restorative disc program.

Ree Hyatt, PTA

Physical Therapist Assistant

Specialty: Manual Hand Therapy 

Bio: Ree has been involved in physical therapy for over 36 years. He worked as a physical therapy specialist in the U.S. Army from 1977 to 1980. He also worked as a technician in acute care at Lanier Park Hospital from 1980-1987. Ree has been at Gainesville Physical Therapy since 1987. In 2004, he got his Associates Degree as a Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA) at Athens Technical College. He specializes in hand treatment and the custom fabrication splints.

Darren Hilchie, PT

Physical Therapist

Specialty: Shoulder Rehabilitation, Therapy of the Knee, Manual Therapy

Bio: Darren has been with Gainesville Physical Therapy for 15 years. He graduated from North Georgia College and State University in 2007 as a physical therapist. Darren practiced Exercise Physiology for 5 years in the US and Canada before returning to school to become a physical therapist.

  • North Georgia College and State University 2007
  • 15 Years of Experience
  • GPT Start Year: 2007

Kristy Basinger, PT, CHT

Physical Therapist and Certified Hand Therapist

Specialty: Certified Hand Therapy, Manual Therapy, Post-Operative Spine Rehabilitation

Bio: Kristy Basinger, PT, CHT has practiced physical therapy in Gainesville since 1995. Her clinical specialties include hand therapy, orthopedic manual therapy, and her favorite modality is dry needling.

  • St. Louis University 1995
  • 27 Years Experience
  • GPT Start Year: 1995

Joanne Hamilton, PT

Co-Director & Physical Therapist

Specialty: Industrial Rehabilitation, Arthritis Education, Manual Therapy

Bio: Joanne Hamilton, PT is a Clinical Co-Director of Gainesville Physical Therapy, and has given national presentations on various topics, including Functional Capacity Evaluations, Validity Testing, Management of Injured Workers, and Work Site Assessments.

  • West Virginia University 1978
  • 44 years experience
  • GPT Start Year: 1986

Jeff Skorput, PT

Co-Director & Physical Therapist

Specialty: Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction & Low Back Pain, Total Joint Rehabilitation, Manual Therapy

Bio: Jeff Skorput, PT joined Gainesville Physical Therapy in 1987. He completed his certificate program in Orthopedic Physical Therapy in 1984. He teaches continuing education courses on the topic of Lumbar Spine and Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction Evaluation and Treatment. 

  • University of Vermont 1977
  • 45 Years of Experience
  • GPT Start Year: 1987

Vicki Sims, PT, CHT

Co-Director, Physical Therapist, & Certified Hand Therapist

Specialty: Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction & Low Back Pain, Hand Therapy, Manual Therapy

Bio: Vicki Sims, PT, CHT is a Clinical Co-Director of Gainesville Physical Therapy. Vicki has helped pioneer diagnosis and treatment for Sacroiliac Dysfunction since 1985. She is the co-author of four clinical papers on the sacroiliac joint, and author of “The Definitive Book on the Treatment of SI Joint Dysfunction.” 

  • Georgia State University 1976
  • 46 Years Experience 
  • GPT Start Year: 1986