Your neck is one of the most complex and mobile parts of your body. The cervical spine supports and balances the weight of your head while you are still or active.
The cervical spine is compact and includes 7 small vertebrae, spinal cord, 8 sets of nerve roots, blood vessels, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. Considering its size, flexibility and versatility, it is easy to appreciate why neck pain is common.
There is a broad range of disorders that cause neck pain.
- Poor posture and body mechanics
- Disc disorder, such as cervical disc degeneration
- Sprain or strain, such as whiplash
- Osteoarthritis, spondylosis
- Cervical spinal stenosis
- Trauma, such as compression fracture
- Infection, such as meningitis
- Tumor, such as cancer
Although you may share the same diagnosis with another patient, your symptoms may differ. Your symptoms may spread or radiate beyond the neck into the shoulders, upper back, and arms. This is called cervical radiculopathy.
- Pain: mild to intense; dull, achy, sharp, throbbing
- Movement aggravates pain
- Sensations: burning, tingling, numbness, pins and needles
- Muscle spasms
- Hand clumsiness
- Gait and balance disturbances
- Localized swelling, feeling stiff
- Skin area tender to the touch
- Jaw pain
- Ringing in the ears
- Rare, bowel and bladder dysfunction
Consult an expert, especially if neck pain develops suddenly, quickly worsens, or you have a pre-existing back disorder. An accurate diagnosis is essential to an effective and successful treatment plan.
Your medical history and physical and neurological examinations are very important. You and your doctor discuss your symptoms, when they developed, and treatments tried. The doctor tests your reflexes and evaluates you for muscle weakness, loss of feeling, and signs of neurological injury.
An x-ray or CT scan may be ordered to confirm the doctor's diagnosis and rule out a more serious condition such as spinal fracture.
Seldom is spine surgery necessary to treat neck pain. Non-surgical treatments often effectively relieve pain and symptoms. Your doctor may combine two or more therapies to maximize the success of your treatment.
- Activity modification
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Pain medication (a narcotic, painkiller)
- Muscle relaxing medication
- Spinal injection
- Short-term bracing supports the spine, may help relieve pain
- Physical therapy
When your surgeon may discuss surgical treatment
Your surgeon may recommend spine surgery if you have neck instability or neurologic dysfunction. If neck pain and symptoms are not responsive to non-operative therapies and persist, surgery may be considered. If your surgeon discusses surgical options with you, be assured his recommendation is made with the greatest concern to your healthcare.