Your neck is a well-engineered structure of bones, nerves, muscles, ligaments and tendons that can support the full weight of your head and move in several directions. This combination of complexity and mobility can make your neck susceptible to pain and injury. Poor posture, arthritis and wear-and-tear of age can also lead to neck pain, which is one of the top five causes of pain worldwide. According to the International Association for the Study of Pain, more than 30 percent of the population is affected by neck pain and 15 percent experience chronic neck pain—defined as mild to severe pain that lasts more than three months—at some point in their lives. Chronic neck pain can have a range of sensations, such as burning, sharp, dull or tingling; can cause neck stiffness; and can spread to the shoulders and arms.
Simple everyday activities such as sleeping in the wrong position, setting a computer monitor too high, hunching over a smartphone, or doing manual labor or repetitive work can cause the type of muscle strain that can lead to bouts of chronic neck pain. In addition, the cartilage between the vertebrae in your neck can deteriorate with age, which often leads to the formation of pain-causing bone spurs. Herniated discs or spinal stenosis—the narrowing of the open spaces within your spine—can lead to painful nerve compression in the neck. Whiplash can cause painful damage to the soft tissues of the neck. And both psychological strain and smoking have also been known to trigger chronic or recurring neck pain.
What’s the diagnosis?
To diagnose chronic neck pain, your pain specialist will begin with your medical history. During your physical examination, your physician will check for tenderness, numbness and muscle weakness in your neck as well as gauge your range of motion as you move your head back, forward and side to side. A range of tests can be used to pinpoint the cause of your pain. Imaging tests such as an X-ray, CT scan or MRI can check for structural problems or nerve impingement. If your physician suspects your pain may be related to a pinched nerve, an electromyography can verify the speed of nerve conduction and whether specific nerves are functioning properly. Blood tests can be used to rule out inflammatory or infectious conditions that could be causing or contributing to your neck pain.
Finding the right treatment plan
Paying attention to your posture, updating your mattress, stretching your muscles regularly and making sure your workstation is ergonomically sound are some of the things you can do to reduce or prevent chronic neck pain. For pain that persists, your pain specialist can use steroid injections to deliver anti-inflammatory medication directly to irritated nerves. Another treatment option is transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS), which relieves pain through low-voltage electric stimulation that travels along nerve fibers. If the root cause of the pain is spinal stenosis, nerve block or facet block injections can treat the inflamed areas. With trigger point injections, a pain specialist can deliver a local anesthetic to relax painful knots of muscle, or trigger points, in your upper back and shoulder areas that could be causing referred pain in your neck. Complementary alternative medicine (CAM) options for neck pain include massage and acupuncture, both of which have proved successful in the reduction of neck pain.
If you’d like to learn more about options for addressing your neck pain, we encourage you to call Pain Management and Injury Relief at (877) 724-6349 to make an appointment today.