What Is Neck Pain?
Neck pain (or cervicalgia) is a common problem, with about two-thirds of the population having neck pain at some point in their lives. Neck pain can be caused by a host of spinal conditions. It can arise from muscle tightness in both the neck and upper back/shoulder, or pinching of the nerves as they come out of the spine and travel down the arms. Disruption of the joint in the neck can generate pain as well.
Causes of Neck Pain
Neck pain may come from any of the structures in the neck (blood vessels, nerves, airway, esophagus, muscles, and bones) or be referred from other parts of the body.
Some of the major and severe causes of neck pain include:
- Carotid artery dissection
- Referred pain from acute coronary syndrome (heart attack)
- Spondylosis (arthritis of the spine)
- Cervical stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal)
- Disc herniation
The more common and less serious causes include:
- Stress – either emotional or physical
- Prolonged postures – many people fall asleep on sofas and chairs and wake up with sore necks
- Minor injuries and falls
- Over-use – muscular strain
- Referred pain – mostly from upper back problems
Signs and Symptoms
You may experience symptoms such as:
- Neck soreness on one or both sides
- Burning pain
- Tingling sensations
- Pain around your shoulder blades
- Pain, numbness, or weakness in your arm
- Trouble swallowing, talking, writing, or walking
- Weakness of arm or hand muscles
Other more uncommon symptoms such as fever, night sweats, unintentional weight loss, severe tenderness with neck motion, recent head or neck injury should be brought up to the attention of a physician.
Most neck pain can be successfully treated without surgery. The management goals of treating neck pain are to achieve maximal reduction in pain intensity as rapidly as possible; to restore the individual’s ability to function in daily activities; to help the patient cope with residual pain; and to assess for side-effects of therapy.
Some of the non-operative treatments include aerobic exercise, physical therapy, various modalities (heat/cold treatments, massage therapy, acupuncture, and traction among others), neck brace, as well as the use of medications, such as muscle relaxants, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, Tylenol, or a short course of steroids. Epidural steroid injection or nerve root blocks may be recommended in select cases.
Surgery is absolutely the last resort in the treatment of neck pain. Dr. Cho recommends surgery only when there is an identifiable source of pain that is both debilitating in nature and causing nerve irritation or damage. Some of these conditions include: