What is neck pain, and what are the causes?
Neck pain is a common condition affecting nearly 15% of Americans. In some people, neck problems may be the source of pain in the upper back, shoulders, or arms.
Your neck is composed of bony vertebrae that provide stability to the spine and support the weight of your head. Because it is less protected than the rest of the spine, the neck can be vulnerable to conditions that cause pain and restrict motion.
Neck pain may result from abnormalities in the soft tissues—the muscles, ligaments, and nerves—as well as in bones and discs of the spine. The most common causes of neck pain are soft-tissue abnormalities due to injury (a sprain) or prolonged wear and tear. In rare instances, infection or tumors may cause neck pain.
Typical causes of neck pain
- Muscle strains develop from overuse during certain activities such as sitting at a desk, looking down at a tablet, or even gritting your teeth.
- Osteoarthritis causes the cartilage between your bones to deteriorate.
- Herniated discs can press on the nerves branching out from the spinal cord.
- Whiplash injuries occur when your head jerks backward and forward suddenly, straining the soft tissues of the neck.
- Certain diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis or cancer, can cause neck pain.
What are the symptoms, and how do they progress?
If severe neck pain follows an injury such as a car accident or fall, a trained professional should immobilize you to avoid risk of further injury. Likewise, pain or numbness that radiates down your arms and legs require immediate attention.
Other signs of neck pain include
- pain that increases by holding your head in one place for long periods, such as when driving or working at a computer
- muscle tightness and spasms
- decreased ability to move your head
To diagnose neck pain, your doctor will discuss your medical history and conduct a physical examination. Imaging tests such as X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT) scans can help provide more detail.
What are some home remedy solutions?
The most common types of mild to moderate neck pain usually respond well to self-care. Alternating heat and cold application and home exercise will gradually ease the tension in your neck over a few days or weeks.
Many over-the-counter medications are available to help with pain management, but you should always consult a doctor about any potential side effects. Your doctor may also prescribe muscle relaxers and pain medicines to deal with chronic pain.
Treating Neck pain at NWA Interventional Pain
After a thorough physical examination and medical history, our pain clinic will develop a tailored treatment for your neck pain.
Often conservative options such as physical therapy are most useful in achieving symptom relief and improved motion for your neck. A physical therapist can teach you correct posture, alignment, and neck-strengthening exercises. Additionally, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is a non-invasive technique that uses low voltage electrical stimulation to muscles to help with pain relief. We can also prescribe braces to take pressure off the structures in your neck. However, we generally try to steer patients toward other treatments.
Diagnostic procedures such as medial branch nerve blocks help us isolate the source of the pain and determine the long-term course of action. We inject an anesthetic in several levels of your spine and have you complete a pain diary. Based on the areas where you felt immediate relief, we have you return for a procedure that will give you pain relief for a longer period of time.
Facet joint injections treat pain in the facet joints between the vertebrae in the spine. These joints allow the spine to bend, flex and twist.
Radiofrequency nerve ablation is a technique that uses heat and radio signals to destroy small nerves that supply the source of your pain.
Most treatments relieve pain for several months, and we can repeat the treatment if the pain returns. Since there are important structures such as nerves, blood vessels, and spinal fluid nearby, all of these procedures should be performed by a well-trained Interventional Pain Doctor.
What sort of problems can occur after pain treatment?
Complications from conservative therapies are generally rare if you follow your doctor’s instructions for follow up. However, if worn for extended periods a neck brace can cause the intrinsic support muscles to weaken, so we advise patients to wear them only during rigorous activity.
Injections do not work for everyone, so you should maintain an open dialogue with the pain control clinic about the progress of your treatment. If your symptoms become more severe, you develop a fever of over 101, or you notice redness or drainage at the injection site, you should call your pain doctor or go to the nearest ER.