NECK PAIN

Neck pain generally refers to pain that occurs in or around the cervical vertebrae in the neck. The neck, which consists of bones, ligaments, and muscles may turn subject to pain and stiffness in the event of any slight abnormality, inflammation, or injury. 

Neck pain occurs fairly commonly and may come up due to poor posture either from hunching too much or sleeping in an inconvenient position, contact sports, or even whiplash. Pain in the neck area can either occur as a sharp, shooting pain that comes on suddenly (acute neck pain), or as a dull continuous, or intermittent pain that lasts for weeks, months, or even years (chronic neck pain). Usually, neck pain clears up without any medical attention but neck pain can also occur as an indication of a more serious underlying problem.

What are the Causes of Neck Pain?

Neck pain can occur due to a variety of conditions. The more common causes of neck pain may include:

Muscle tension and strain

Overusing the neck muscles due to repetitive neck movements and adopting a poor posture can lead to neck pain and stiffness.

Injuries

Trauma from accidents, especially auto collisions, can cause significant injury to the muscles and ligaments of the neck. Neck injuries such as whiplash occur due to forced sudden movement of the neck.

Meningitis

Meningitis occurs due to inflammation of the tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord. This condition usually occurs with symptoms including a stiff or sore neck, nausea, headaches, and sudden light sensitivity.

Degenerative conditions

Certain degenerative conditions can lead to neck pain and stiffness. These conditions may include osteoarthritis, spondylosis, herniated discs, and cervical radiculopathy.

Other causes of neck pain may include:

  • Abnormal growth such as a tumor
  • Cancer of the spine
  • Congenital abnormalities
  • Infections and abscesses
  • Obesity
  • Worn joints

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Neck Pain?

Symptoms of neck pain can differ based on the cause and severity of the pain. Common symptoms of neck pain may include:

  • Consistent dull or sharp shooting pain in the neck
  • Pain that extends from the neck to the head, shoulders, or arms
  • Numbness, tingling, or burning sensations that extends to the arms in the case of a compressed nerve
  • Decreased range of motion in the neck

An individual should contact a doctor immediately if the symptoms persist for more than a week or if the following symptoms occur:

  • Back or neck pain that increases consistently
  • Difficulty in breathing or swallowing
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Unexplained lump in the neck
  • Sudden weight loss

How do Specialists diagnose Neck Pain?

Along with a comprehensive list of symptoms, a specialist will require the detailed personal medical history of the patient. The specialist may also require a detailed list of medications and supplements taken by the patient together with information about any recent injury or trauma. The specialist will also carry out a physical examination to determine the severity of the neck pain. Additional imaging tests such as CT and MRI scans may take place to find out the exact cause of the pain.

How do Specialists Treat Neck Pain?

Depending on the severity and cause of the pain, a specialist may recommend some non-surgical treatment options to help relieve neck pain. These treatment options may include:

  • Physical therapy and exercise
  • Medication and steroid injections to relieve pain
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Neck braces for extra support
  • Acupuncture

Specialists only recommend surgical procedures in cases caused by severe medical conditions.

References

Isaac Z, et al. Evaluation of the adult patient with neck pain. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search.

Neck pain. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/neck-pain.

Neck pain. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Neck-Pain.

Miller M, et al., eds. Degenerative conditions of the cervical and thoracolumbar spine. In DeLee, Drez, and Miller’s Orthopaedic Sports Medicine: Principles and Practice. 5th ed. Elsevier, 2020. https://www.clinicalkey.com.

Neck pain. American College of Rheumatology. https://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Diseases-Conditions/Living-Well-with-Rheumatic-Disease/Neck-Pain.

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