Why do so many women have back and neck pain?

Howard S. Smith
Pain Medicine
Back pain is s a common complaint I hear when women come for an office visit. Younger women experience back pain frequently with premenstrual syndrome, menstrual cramping and aches, or from the strain of lifting young children. Middle-aged and older women often have back pain from injuries, disc disease, or degenerative diseases such as arthritis or osteoporosis. I also consult with many women who suffer needlessly with neck pain, whether from a past injury, poor posture, computer strain, or fibromyalgia -- an arthritis-related syndrome that causes deep muscle pain. Like back pain, neck pain can also stem from osteoporosis, arthritis, and disc diseases.
Matthew F. McCarty, MD

 Neck pain and back pain are more common in women than in men. No one knows for sure why but some theories exist. Genetic factors such as degenerative disc disease can lead to arthritis and as well as chronic anxiety/depression can also play a part in the flares of neck and back spasm and pain. This can explain for the higher incidence of cervicogenic headaches or headaches that start in the neck region and radiate up the back of the head. Occupational stress has also been implicated. Women generally perform more sedentary/repetitive roles such as childcare, housekeeping, sitting at computers, cashiers, telephone operators as compared to male counterparts. Studies have shown that women cashiers for instance have more neck pain during breaks than compared to while on the job. Electrical studies revealed increased activity in the neck region as compared to those who were more active in their work. Studies have also proven that trapezius muscle strain and spasm can be improved with specific strengthening excercises. Some physical characteristics have been implicated.

A study of Japanese women with lower muscle mass and sloping shoulders developed more neck pain at given tasks as compared to males. Interestingly the males seemed to have more pain correlation with the level of stress verses physical work they experienced. It is known that women have less cartilage in the delicate facet joints of the neck. This could make them more susceptible to whiplash in a rear end collision.

Furthermore the neck bones themselves can more easily become out of alignment leading to narrowing of the spinal cord and nerve structures. It is well known that estrogen can create ligament laxity during pregnancy. It would seem plausible that these hormones could affect the strength of the ligaments themselves that bind the facet joints. These joints as well as the tendons that bind muscle to bone can be injured during a whiplash injury. Another physical difference such as women’s height could be a predictor. Sitting more erect in the driver’s seat with an improperly adjusted headrest could lead to more whiplash incidents during rear-end collisions. For all these possible reasons it’s important for women to practice good posture, perform stress relieving exercises such as meditation and yoga as well as get plenty of sleep in order to reduce the incidence of neck and back pain flares.

Mosaraf Ali, MD
Integrative Medicine

Generally, women have more aches and pain than men. Women are more prone to having migraine headaches, rheumatoid arthritis, cramps in the calves, fibromyalgia (inflammatory muscular disease), and poly myalgia rheumatic (rheumatic muscle pain), as well as their own specific pains such as labor pain, period pain, endometria pain in the lower abdomen, and premenstrual body aches.

Emotionally too, they have more "pains" than men, as they have frequent mood swings due to the nature of their hormonal cycles and their sensitive nature. Nature has given them more tolerance and therefore they complain a lot less than men about pain or other symptoms of diseases.

Women are more prone to  mineral deficiencies like osteoporosis (calcium deficiency), anemia (iron deficiency), low thyroid (often due to iodine deficiency), and chronic fatigue (often due to vitamin D or magnesium deficiency). Therefore, they suffer from a range of illnesses, including joint and muscle disorders. They often bruise very easily and so are more likely to have injuries in the neck and back areas.

Women generally work longer hours than men. They are the first to get up and last to sleep. From childcare to organizing meals and sorting out the general affairs of the family, they usually play an important role. The wear and tear in the joints and muscles are obvious. As working women, additionally, they have a full day of normal duties to carry out. Their posture is generally bad due to fatigue and over exertion.

Finally, pregnancy puts a lot of strain on the lower back. The weight of the baby puts tremendous strain on the groin and lower back. Just before the end of term, the body secretes a hormone that causes bone loss in the pelvic and lower back joint surfaces. This is to make them more flexible so the head can pass through the pelvic girdle without any hindrance. This often causes additional backache. As the baby grows, the mother has to carry it very often, which puts a lot of strain on the arms and the neck. Mothers forget that the child gains weight rapidly and continue to lift and carry them, which causes a lot of backache.

My advice is to consult a doctor or nutritionist for nutritional advice, do regular yoga or Pilates or spinal exercises, and have a neck and back massage once a month if is possible

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.