Neck pain is medically known as cervicalgia. Neck pain is a common medical condition. You might have felt neck pain at least once in their life. It may be from excessive working, or a bad posture, or a wrong sleeping position.
Neck consists of seven vertebrae that build the spine all the way up to the neck. This is called the cervical vertebrae that surround the spinal cord and canal. Vertebrae extending from the skull to the upper torso make up the neck. Cervical discs help absorb shock between the bones.
Neck supports your head and allows for motion with the help of bones, ligaments, and muscles. Neck pain or stiffness can result from any abnormalities, inflammation, or injury.
Pain in the neck can arise from a number of disorders and diseases involving tissues in the neck. Various daily habits causing muscle soreness might lead to neck pain. Several problems in surrounding parts of the neck may cause ache or neck pain that can result from specific injury or a fall.
It is necessary to determine the right cause for neck pain, as it can temporarily restrict any form of motion, which gives the patient the impression of being paralyzed.
WHAT CAUSES NECK PAIN?
Neck pain or stiffness can be a result of various problems such as:
- Muscle Tension and strain – This is caused by daily activities such as poor posture, working at a desk for too long without changing position, sleeping in a bad position and jerk in the neck during exercise.
- Injury – Neck is sensitive to injury especially from fall, accident or sport. The neck muscles and ligaments are forced to move outside of normal range. If the cervical vertebrae or neck bones are fractured they might damage the spinal cord also. Sudden jerk of head can cause neck injury called whiplash.
- Heart Attack – Neck pain might be a symptom of a heart attack. But, other symptoms are accompanied with heart attack like shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, vomiting, arm or jaw pain.
- Meningitis – The thin tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord are inflamed causing a fever, headache along with a stiff neck.
- Rheumatoid arthritis – This causes pain, swelling of the joints, and bone spurs. If these occur in the neck area they would result in neck pain.
- Osteoporosis – This weakens bones leading to small fractures.
- Fibromyalgia – This causes muscle pain especially in the neck and shoulder area.
- Spondylitis – This causes the cervical discs degeneration leading to narrowing the space between the vertebrae. It adds stress to your neck joints.
- Herniated Cervical Disk – It occurs from trauma, injury or disk protruding, adding pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots. This is also known as a ruptured or slipped disk.
- Spinal stenosis – This occurs from narrowing of the spinal column causing pressure on the spinal cord or the nerve roots as it exits the vertebrae. This can occur from long-term inflammation.
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You should see a doctor in following conditions:
- Severe neck pain without apparent cause
- Lump in your neck
- Swollen glands
- Trouble swallowing or breathing
- Pain radiating down your arms or legs
- Inability to move arms or hands
- Inability to touch chin to your chest
- Bladder or bowel dysfunction
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF NECK PAIN?
Neck pain symptoms can vary widely. The pain could be moderate, to excruciating. Sometimes neck pain is localized and goes away on its own within a few days or weeks. In less common cases, the pain becomes constant and starts radiating to other parts of the body like the shoulder and arm.
Neck pain involves various symptoms and signs, including:
- Sharp pain – A sensation of stinging or pinching.
- Stiff neck – It is a feeling of soreness when moving the neck, causing aches in connected parts such as the head and shoulder. It may be caused by any bad posture or wrong movement. Usually you might feel soreness all around the neck area, and it causes more pain with time if not well treated.
- Radicular pain – This type of pain spreads from the neck into neighboring parts of the body. It varies and affects the nerves which gets extremely annoying.
- Cervical radiculopathy – It is caused by neurological deficits like problems with reflexes, sensation, or strength experienced in the arm due to nerve root compression. Cervical radiculopathy is sometimes accompanied by radicular pain.
- Difficulty lifting or holding objects – This is the result of soreness in the arms and fingers.
- Headaches – Sometimes headaches are strictly related to neck pain including tension headaches. This causes moderate pain in the forehead, or tenderness in the scalp and neck muscles. Headache might result from muscle contraction from stress and fatigue.
- Insomnia – If you are suffering from neck pain you might have sleeping issues also. It may also interfere with other daily activities, restricting you from driving, working out, or even working.
HOW IS NECK PAIN DIAGNOSED?
A healthcare provider does an extensive examination for the neck area when trying to diagnose the cause of the neck pain. Your doctor would check for any muscle weakness or tenderness, and your ability to move the head. Other imaging tests that can be done are:
- X-rays – Helps to identify areas of the neck affected by injury or spur.
- CT scan – It helps to get X-rays of different parts of the neck to see the neck from all around and determine the cause accordingly.
- MRI – It helps to check for other reasons related to different neighboring parts of the neck, like back and spine.
- Electromyography – This detects problems specifically affecting the nerves to determine the functioning.
- Blood tests – Helps in detecting infections or deficits that might be causing the pain.
Other tests help in diagnosing other problems associated with neck are:
- Computed Tomography Scan (CT or CAT scan)
- Electromyography (EMG)
- Nerve Conduction Studies (NCS)
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
- Selective Nerve Root Block
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HOW IS NECK PAIN TREATED?
Neck Pain is not a dangerous condition and can be usually treated with non-surgical methods. Neck pain usually resolves with time and conservative medical treatments. Treatment regime for neck pain depends on its diagnosis. Some common treatments include:
- Pain Killers – Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, naproxen sodium are recommended.
- Heat or cold pads – Temperature helps to relieve neck pain and reduce inflammation. Application of ice packs or heat pads result in a huge pain relief. Taking hot showers and baths reduces stiffness and soreness of the muscles.
- Home exercises – Adding stretching exercises to your daily routine helps ease the pain. Slowly stretching your head in side-to-side and up-and-down motions stretches the neck muscles. Good posture and gentle massage in the affected area reduces inflammation and pain. Using a special neck pillow for sleeping relaxes the neck and helps ease off the pain.
- Physical Therapy – It is the perfect way that guides you through the right posture and position. Physical therapy includes home remedies and they ease the pain and prevent it from happening again.
- Injections – The healthcare provider might advise doing some injections in the specific areas that are causing pain, such as epidural steroid injections or trigger point injection. They help in providing mobility of the neck, relieving its pain and making its movement more flexible.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation – This treatment sends certain signals through the specific parts of the body which are causing pain in order to relieve it.
- Surgery – This is suggested in severe conditions. Spinal fusion, simple decompression or artificial disc replacement are suggested to relieve severe conditions.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from neck pain, our expert providers at Specialty Care Clinics will take care of your health and help you recover.