Neck pain is one of the most common complaints people have. It is no surprise since many people practice poor posture, and when they work at the computer all day, it tends to make them lean or hunch over the desk. Most neck pain is caused by activities that repetitious or involve long periods where the neck in stationary. Usually this type of neck pain will clear up on its own in 4-6 weeks with non-surgical treatment.
Sometimes wear-and-tear on the cervical vertebrae resulting in the development of arthritis will cause neck pain. If you are experiencing neck pain and numbness in your arms or hands, you may have a more serious problem, especially if you have shooting pains going down your arms.
What can be causes of neck pain?
• Muscle strains
• Nerve compression
• Injury to neck
• Diseases, like meningitis and cancer
What type of tests will be done to determine the cause of my neck pain?
– X-rays. If there are bone spurs or a bulging disk causing your neck pain, x-rays will pick it up.
– Computerized tomography (CT) scan. A CT scan will take cross-sectional views of the internal structures of your neck to determine if there is anything an x-ray may not have found.
– Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).MRIs provide detailed images of the underlying structures of the spinal cord and nerves that come from it, as well as the bones and soft tissues.
This type of test is done if a pinched nerve is suspected. An electromyography (EMG) will be done to determine if specific nerves are functioning in the right way.
– Blood tests. Blood tests can reveal things like inflammatory processes or infectious conditions that may cause neck pain.
– Spinal tap (lumbar puncture).This is a test done by taking a sample of fluid from your spinal cord. Its purpose is to determine the presence of meningitis.
What type of treatment should I expect?
– Neck exercises. A physical therapist may be recommended to help you with effective neck exercises and stretching your neck muscles, if your diagnosis warrants it. Exercise can help improve neck pain and optimize your posture, thereby increasing strength and endurance in your neck muscles. Massage and manipulation, as done by a healthcare professional, may be beneficial for acute neck pain. Over-the-counter analgesics may be recommended as well as cold and/or heat to the affected area.
– Traction. Pulleys and weights are used to gently stretch neck muscles and keep your neck immobilized. This can offer fast relief for some neck pain.
– Short-term immobilization. The use of a soft collar to support your neck may offer relief by taking pressure off of certain structures in the neck.
Surgical and other interventions
– Steroid injections. Corticosteroid medication injected near the nerve roots or other areas of the spine will offer relief if your doctor believes it is beneficial in your situation. Numbing medications can also be used.
– Surgery. Surgery is rarely needed for neck pain. It may be used in situations where there is compression of a nerve or the spinal cord.
– Antidepressants. In some cases, it has been found that some antidepressants can help with pain control.
– Medial and facet branch blocks. A medial branch block is an injection of local anesthetic and steroid that is placed in the outer area of a joint near the nerve that is part of the medial branch. A facet block is different that it is placed into a joint of the spine. Several injections may be needed depending on how many joints need treated.
– Radiofrequency ablation. Radiofrequency ablation is a procedure that applies heat to certain nerve pathways to interrupt pain signals to the brain. This can be done on an outpatient basis and doesn’t involve anything but a local anesthetic and mild sedation.
– Spinal decompression therapy. This procedure involves using a needle to extract disc material that is causing the herniation. The result will be alleviating the pressure of the herniated disc on the nerve root. The pain may take a week to subside.
– TENS units. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a small machine that has leads connected to electrodes which are placed in the area of the neck pain. It produces electrical impulses that block or reduce pain signals from going to the brain. It helps to reduce or relieve pain or muscle spasm.