What is Neck Pain?
The cervical area of the spine is made up of an interdependent network of bones, discs, nerves and muscles, all of which are subject to stress, injury and impairment. Because of this, neck pain is extremely common, affecting approximately 2/3 of the adult population. Luckily, there are many treatment options available for the alleviation or complete elimination of neck pain.
Neck Pain Symptoms
The first step toward lessening neck pain is discovering the underlying cause of the discomfort. To give your doctor the most thorough information possible, begin keeping a pain journal and charting your symptoms, as well as their triggers and the success or lack thereof of whatever home remedies you attempt. The following complications may signify an issue in or around the cervical spine:
- Soreness in the shoulders, upper back or neck
- Stiffness in the cervical region
- Radiating pain in the upper back, shoulders or neck
- Irritation that worsens with movement, specifically in the neck, shoulders or upper back
If you experience shooting pain in the shoulder or down the arm, numbness or loss of strength in the arms or hands, changes in bowel or bladder habits or cannot touch your chin to your chest, seek medical attention immediately, as these problems may be signs of a serious emergency.
Neck Pain Causes
While some of the challenges associated with neck pain may seem like minor distresses, they can greatly hinder your everyday life and evolve over time into severe, ongoing pain. By discovering the instigator of your neck pain and treating the underlying condition, you may be able to obtain relief. A number of conditions may be causing your neck or shoulder pain, including:
- Muscle Strain or Ligament Sprain
Improperly lifting heavy objects or conducting repeated motions (such as sitting at a desk all day) can stress muscle tissue and ligaments, leading to pain that can often develop into a chronic condition.
Arthritis causes inflammation, rigidity and pain in joints. Cervical Spondylosis, commonly called the “arthritis of the neck,” occurs as the discs in the spine age and lose water content. This places more pressure on facet joints, which begin to degenerate. Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune condition that encourages the body to attack joint-lining tissues, can also incite painful swelling in the cervical region.
- Nerve Compression
When a cervical disc is herniated, its soft, inner nucleus seeps out of a weak point in its hard outer casing. Pain in the neck and shoulders may result as weight is redistributed and nerves are compressed. Similar issues arise when a disc bulges or a vertebrae fractures.
- Sudden Injury
Unexpected damage to the cervical spine may be caused by falls, excessive motion, motor vehicle accidents, direct blows to the face or to the back or top of the head, sports-related accidents and comparable events. Victims of motor vehicle accidents often suffer whiplash, a type of pain that occurs when the head is suddenly forced forward and then snapped backward, or vice versa.
Certain illnesses can lead to neck and shoulder pain. Meningitis agitates the tissues around the brain and spinal cord and can become a life-threatening ailment. Flu tends to make the neck and the rest of the body ache constantly. Fibromyalgia may cause pain in the muscles and soft tissues, even in areas where there is no obvious injury or inflammation.
- Cervical Spinal Stenosis
Stenosis occurs when the spinal canal narrows, compressing the spinal cord and disrupting the organization of tissues, ligaments and bone in the surrounding areas.
Even benign tumors can cause significant pain in the cervical area if they interfere with the proper functioning of muscles, ligaments and bone. Tumors may also crowd sensitive nerves.
- Referred Pain
Sometimes, a health issue in one part of the body causes pain in another seemingly unrelated place. For example, a dental concern in the teeth or jaw or a medical issue in the heart can lead to significant neck pain.
- Torticollis (Wryneck)
Extreme muscle tightness or a shortened muscle on one side of the neck may cause torticollis, which tilts the head to one side. Generally, torticollis stems from other syndromes.
Many factors can increase your risk of developing neck pain, such as poor posture, an unhealthy diet, sleeping on your stomach, stress or depression, smoking, drug abuse and lack of exercise or activity. By making mindful lifestyle changes, you can often lessen the likelihood of encountering neck pain and mitigate the effects of already existing discomfort.
Neck Pain Non-Surgical Treatment Options
Depending on the root cause of your neck pain, you may heal naturally with the aid of conservative treatments. Massage, physical therapy, ice packs, heating pads and vitamins or supplements often effectively manage neck pain. However, if your discomfort is caused by a stubborn underlying issue, minimally invasive surgery may be required.
At Laser Spine & Orthopedics®, we are committed to helping you achieve a pain-free life. Our team of spine specialists may recommend undergoing a pain mapping procedure, which uses numbing medication to determine the precise location from which your pain emanates. If a vertebral fracture or herniated disc is suspected, a CT scan, MRI or other imaging method may be helpful. After identifying the source of your discomfort, our highly acclaimed physicians will create a customized treatment plan that fits your unique needs and preferences.
Neck Pain Minimally Invasive Treatment Options
Problems with discs or vertebral fractures sometimes necessitate surgery. To lessen recovery time, scarring and trauma, our surgeons employ some of the most advanced minimally invasive surgical techniques available today. These procedures use extremely small incisions to safely and effectively reduce neck pain. Common minimally invasive surgeries include:
During a fusion procedure, one of our Board-certified surgeons will remove affected pieces of herniated discs and place spacers into empty disc space, which will cushion and strengthen the spine. Fusions also involve the application of a small bone-bridge between two harmed vertebrae to re-stabilize the upper back or neck.
Discectomies are designed to remove the ruptured portions of a herniated disc while preserving its healthy segments. The hard outer wall of the disc is then treated to prevent further leakage.
Similar to a discectomy, surgeons performing microdiscectomies extract portions of a herniated disc and secure the remaining disc on a minute scale. Often, surgeons use endoscopes (tiny cameras) to conduct microdiscectomies.
Neck pain may seem unavoidable, but there are many ways to mitigate the severity and prevalence of your condition. Certain maladies can be quickly corrected, leading to a complete disappearance of pain. Contact us today by filling out the form on this page for more information on how to take control of your neck pain!