What is neck pain?

Neck pain is a common complaint. Neck muscles can be strained from poor posture — whether it’s leaning into your computer at work or hunching over your workbench at home. Wear-and-tear arthritis also is a common cause of neck pain.

Rarely, neck pain can be a symptom of a more serious problem. Seek medical care if your neck pain is accompanied by numbness or loss of strength in your arms or hands or if you’re experiencing shooting pain into your shoulder or down your arm.

How is neck pain evaluated?

Neck pain is evaluated by reviewing the history of the symptoms. In reviewing, the location, intensity, duration, and radiation of the pain will be noted. Any past injury to the neck is also taken into account. The neck is examined at rest and in motion. An examination of the nervous system is performed to determine whether nerve involvement is present. Further testing includes x-ray evaluation, CAT scan, bone scan and MRI scan.

What are the causes?

Most neck pain is caused by activities that strain the neck. Slouching, painting a ceiling, or sleeping with your neck twisted are some things that can cause neck pain. These kinds of activities can lead to neck strain, a spasm of the neck muscles, or swelling of the neck joints.

Neck pain can also be caused by an injury. A fall from a ladder or whiplash from a car accident can cause neck pain. Some less common medical problems can also lead to neck pain, such as:

  • An infection in the neck.
  • Narrowing of the spinal canal camera in the neck (cervical spinal stenosis).
  • Muscle strains. Overuse, such as too many hours hunched over a steering wheel, often triggers muscle strains. Even such minor things as reading in bed or gritting your teeth can strain neck muscles.
  • Worn joints. Just like all the other joints in your body, your neck joints tend to undergo wear and tear with age, which can cause osteoarthritis in your neck.
  • Nerve compression. Herniated disks or bone spurs in the vertebrae of your neck can take up too much space and press on the nerves branching out from the spinal cord.
  • Injuries. Rear-end auto collisions often result in whiplash injuries, which occur when the head is jerked backward and then forward, stretching the soft tissues of the neck beyond their limits.
  • Diseases. Neck pain can sometimes be caused by diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis or cancer.

What are the treatments?

The treatment of neck pain depends on its precise cause. Treatment options include rest, heat/ice applications, traction, soft collar, traction, physical therapy (ultrasound, massage, manipulation), local injections of cortisone or anesthetics, topical anesthetic creams, topical pain patches, muscle relaxants, analgesics, and surgical procedures.

 

cervical_radiculopathy_intro01Neck pain with pain radiating to arm