What is Cervicalgia?
The medical term “Cervicalgia” usually refers to pain that occurs around the neck 1. Cervicalgia produces significant pain and great discomfort to the patient. Sometimes, this pain may radiate to the head, arms, or body. The duration of the pain depends upon the type of cervicalgia. This condition may result from numerous spinal problems. Neck pain affects almost 30% of adults in the USA. Among them, about 50% of individuals may suffer from chronic neck pain. Research estimates almost 20% to 70% of adults will experience cervicalgia that interferes with their daily activities during their lifetime. Women (5.7%) become more susceptible to neck pain than men (3.9%) 2.
The anatomy of a neck comprises cervical vertebrae, bones, nerves, muscles, ligaments, and tendons that protect the spinal cord and support the head while providing range of motion. Cervicalgia differs from another condition, lumbago, where the pain occurs in the lower back. Experts believe that almost 95% of people 65 years or older will have at least one episode of cervicalgia 3. According to the International Archives of Otorhinolaryngology, disruption between the flexibility and strength of neck muscles may cause cervicalgia.
What Are The Common Symptoms And Causes of Cervicalgia?
Cervicalgia may produce a sharp, stabbing pain or a dull, persistent pain around the neck. The severity of the pain depends upon the extent of the injury and most cases of cervicalgia produce mild discomfort to the patients. Common symptoms of cervicalgia may include stiffness, spasm, and pain in the neck muscles, impaired neck movement, pain radiating throughout the arm and body, tingling and numbness in the arm, muscle weakness in the neck, neck soreness, etc. Other symptoms include 4:
- Nausea, headache, and dizziness
- Burning or aching sensation in the neck
- Tenderness in the shoulder
- Tightness in the upper back
- Hearing difficulties
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
Cervicalgia can arise from many different causes. The most obvious cause of cervicalgia includes sports injury or motor vehicle accidents. This causes localized pain that ranges from a “stiff neck” to an inability to bend the neck or turn the head without pain. Other causes of cervicalgia include 5:
- Muscle straining such as carrying a heavy bag over the shoulder for a prolonged time
- Bad posture and poor sleeping position
- Working long hours with the neck at an uncomfortable angle
- Physical injuries like a car crash causing a quick backward and forward movement of the head
- Long-term stress resulting in the clenching of neck and shoulder muscles
- Compression of the spinal nerve along the vertebrae
- Herniated or ruptured disc
- Several diseases like osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, meningitis, spinal infection, spinal tumor, etc.
- Certain sports can cause kyphosis, a spinal disorder that affects the posture of an individual, etc.
Types of Cervicalgia.
According to the duration of neck pain, physicians classify cervicalgia into 3 different types, such as acute, subacute, and chronic. Acute cervicalgia usually lasts less than 7 days, while subacute lasts more than 7 days but less than 3 months. And chronic neck pain lasts a minimum duration of 3 months.
How Do Neurosurgeons Diagnose Cervicalgia?
Diagnosis of cervicalgia depends upon taking a medical history and performing various imaging tests like X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, etc. Physicians usually ask questions about the symptoms and history of any injuries, illnesses, or activities that cause the pain. Various imaging tests help to determine the underlying spinal problems of the patient. Physicians will also look for tenderness, numbness, and muscle weakness by moving the head forward, backward, and side to side to confirm the diagnosis.
How Do Neurosurgeons Treat Cervicalgia?
The management of cervicalgia depends upon the cause and symptoms of the patients. The majority of the patients recover by applying home treatment. Cervicalgia usually disappears within a couple of weeks. But if the pain persists for several weeks or even months, patients need to talk to a physician. Most patients with acute neck pain usually respond well to conservative and non-surgical treatment. Different approaches to treat cervicalgia include:
- Medications: This includes pain relievers (e.g., acetaminophen), muscle relaxants, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., aspirin, Motrin, or ibuprofen, etc.) to reduce the pain and inflammation.
- Physical therapy: It includes mobilization exercises to strengthen the muscles of the neck. Stretching the neck several times a day may help to reduce neck pain.
- Application of ice packs and warm compression to manage cervicalgia. Ice therapy to the affected area for 15 minutes several times a day can help to reduce the inflammation and heat therapy for 20 minutes a day can ease muscle tension and promote healing.
- Physicians recommend wearing a neck collar to restrict the movement and stabilize the head.
- Some holistic therapies like acupuncture, chiropractic care, easy yoga, easy Pilates, and Tai Chi show their effectiveness sometimes.
If the pain still persists after using these treatments, neurosurgeons may suggest surgery to reduce the discomfort of the patient. Physicians recommend some strategies to reduce the risk of having cervicalgia such as avoiding some activities that produce neck strains, provide adequate rest to the neck, avoiding poor posture, sleep in an excellent position, etc.
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- Lago, E. P. Cervicalgia and its Relation to Stress in the Population of a Doctor’�’s Office. J. Head Neck Spine Surg. 2, (2018).
- Chandni Clara D’souza, R., Nambiar, R., Joseph S Martis, J., N Rao, S. & Singh, M. The incidence of persistence cervicalgia among students and the risk factors contributing towards it. IP Indian J. Anat. Surg. Head, Neck Brain 6, 49–52 (2020).
- Misailidou, V., Malliou, P., Beneka, A., Karagiannidis, A. & Godolias, G. Assessment of patients with neck pain: a review of definitions, selection criteria, and measurement tools. J. Chiropr. Med. 9, 49–59 (2010).
- Zeigelboim, B. S. et al. Neurotological findings at a health unit for adults with cervicalgia. Int. Arch. Otorhinolaryngol. 20, 109–113 (2016).
- Choi, A. R. et al. Current practice and usual care of major cervical disorders in Korea: A cross-sectional study of Korean health insurance review and assessment service national patient sample data. Med. (United States) 96, (2017).