What are the main causes of neck pain and treatments? Whether you strain your neck on the job, performing home chores or from a car collision, the resulting pain can be excruciating. Your neck is a complex and delicate structure that supports your head and is a passageway for critical systems like your windpipe and nerves. Unlike your back which has a robust network of broad muscles, larger vertebrae and a rigid skeletal system surrounding the spine, your neck has little protection and is more easily subjected to torque and injury.
The neck has seven vertebrae that are not only smaller than those in your back but are also designed for greater mobility. Within this small structure are 33 joints made up of discs, ligaments and muscles. This complicated system must support the relatively large weight of your head, which is why it is so vulnerable to various injuries.
- Stiff neck—Almost everyone has had a bad night’s rest that produced a stiff neck the following day. This pain is the result of a muscle or soft tissue strain, usually the levator scapulae which connects the neck to the shoulder. This can be aggravated by activities like swimming or poor posture while sitting. In most cases, a mild OTC medication can relieve any discomfort, and a few days of rest is sufficient to remediate the muscular strain.
- Whiplash—When your head is violently thrust forward and back, this puts enormous strain on your neck. Whiplash may vary from a mild muscle strain to a life-threatening vertebral fracture. If you do experience whiplash, then you should visit a physician immediately to ensure that a serious injury has not occurred. If your symptoms are mild, you may be able to rest your neck and allow it to heal. In more serious cases, your doctor may recommend a cervical collar to immobilize your neck and prevent further injury. Patients that suffer from extreme pain may consider procedures like radiofrequency neurotomy.
- Meningococcal infection— Although not as common, neck pain may result from an infection from meningococcal meningitis, a bacteria that attacks the brain and spinal cord. If you are experiencing a stiff neck along with flu-like symptoms such as fever, fatigue, and joint or muscle aches, seek medical attention immediately. Prompt diagnosis and immediate treatment with antibiotics may raise the likelihood of survival.
- Cervical osteoarthritis—Many people who suffer from osteoarthritis will experience neck pain. This pain is symptomatic of deterioration of the cartilage between neck vertebrae. This may allow bones to impact one another and produce bone spurs, which may, in turn, cause inflammation of the surrounding tissue. If your symptoms are relatively mild, your doctor will probably recommend a light exercise regimen, interspersed with rest, and hot/cold therapy. Many osteoarthritis sufferers respond well to over-the-counter medications. If your osteoarthritis is presenting with more severe symptoms, you may try physical therapy to increase neck flexibility and strength, or opioid pain killers to manage the pain. In the most serious cases of chronic neck pain, a physician may recommend a nerve block or radiofrequency ablation.
Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care
M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.