What is Neck Pain?
The neck (cervical spine) is made up of vertebrae that extend from the skull to the upper torso. Cervical discs in the neck absorb shock between the bones. The bones, ligaments and muscles in the neck support the head and allow for motion. Any of these parts can cause a person to experience pain for a variety of reasons. Abnormalities, inflammation or injury can cause neck pain or stiffness.
Neck pain is very common and is not usually a serious condition. In many cases it is due to bad posture or age. In some cases the pain may be due to an injury such as from a fall, whiplash or playing sports. In other instances, neck pain can be the symptom of something more serious especially if it lasts for more than a week or is accompanied by other symptoms.
What Causes Neck Pain?
There are many causes of neck pain and some may be more serious than others depending on additional symptoms and recent activity or injury. Some, but not all of the possible causes of neck pain includes:
- Cervical dystonia
- Cervical spondylosis
- Cradling your phone between your shoulder and neck
- Emotional stress
- Herniated disk
- Poor posture
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Sleeping on your stomach or with too many or too few pillows
- Spinal stenosis
- Tension headache
- TMJ disorders
- Trauma from accidents or falls
Should I See a Doctor?
If neck pain lasts for more than a week, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Some causes of neck pain can be very serious so it is important to pay close attention to any additional symptoms. Seek medical attention if you experience:
- Severe neck pain without apparent cause
- A lump in your neck
- Swollen glands
- Nausea and vomiting
- Trouble swallowing or breathing
- Numbness and tingling
- Pain that radiates down your arms or legs
- Inability to move your arms or hands
- Inability to touch your chin to your chest
- Bladder or bowel dysfunction
If you have been in a recent accident or fall and you are experiencing neck pain, it is important to seek medical care immediately.
Treatment From a Healthcare Professional
Most often, treatment for back pain is not necessary. However if the pain is a symptom of a more serious condition the treatment will depend on the diagnosis.
Your doctor may perform various tests in order to make a diagnosis, including:
- Blood tests
- Computed tomography (CT) scan
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Electromyography (EMG – a test that checks the health of muscles and the nerves that control muscles)
- Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
The outcome of the tests will determine whether your doctor refers you to a specialist for treatment. Your treatment could possibly include:
- Ice and heat therapy
- Exercise, stretching, and physical therapy
- Pain medication
- Cortisone injections
- Muscle relaxants
- Neck collar
- Antibiotics (if infection is involved)
- Hospital treatment (if a condition such as meningitis or heart attack is the cause)
- Surgery, though this is rare
Ways to Alleviate Neck Pain
The following can be done at home in order to help relieve neck pain:
- Apply ice for the first few days of your neck hurting. After that, apply heat with a heating pad, hot compress, or hot showers
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
- Take a few days off from sports and strenuous activities
- Use good posture
- Do not stand or sit in one position for too long
- Use a special neck pillow for sleeping
- Do not use a neck brace or collar without checking with your doctor’s approval
Places to Get Help
Get excellent bone and joint treatment from the top doctors at OrthoArizona – Arizona Orthopaedic Associates.