Pain in the neck? Causes and treatment options for neck injuries
Despite the play on words, a 'pain in the neck' is no laughing matter. For many people across Georgia, and the USA in general, neck pain can have a serious impact upon patients' quality of living. The goal of this blog post if to provide you with some useful insight into the causes and treatment options for neck injuries.
About the neck
The neck is very flexible. The bones in the neck allow greater movement than other areas of the spine. Its flexibility is vital to perform its role but, at the same time, the fact it moves so easily means that it is less protected than the rest of the spine, more vulnerable, and prone to injury.
For most people, neck pain is something that disappears with time, but for some, it requires medical diagnosis and treatment.
Common Causes of Neck Pain
Any injury that places stress or pressure on the neck has the potential to cause neck pain as well as headaches, shoulder pain, and numbness or tingling in the arms and legs.
The most common causes of neck injury include:
Car accidents, especially rear-impact collisions*
Competitive sports, such as football, horseback riding, and hockey
Lifting heavy objects employing improper technique
Performing repetitive tasks, such as working at a computer
Diving into unknown waters
*Sometimes in car accidents, the neck is hyperextended, which is when the neck moves backward, further than its normal limit. The opposite can also happen, which is known as hyperflexion - a forward motion beyond the normal limits. Fractures or dislocations of the neck can damage the spinal cord and can even cause paralysis.
Other causes of neck pain
Neck pain can come from a variety of abnormalities affecting the soft tissues, muscles, ligaments, and nerves. Neck pain can also result from the bones and joints of the spine.
Prolonged wear and tear causing damage to the soft tissues is the most common reason for neck pain. It is not unusual for neck pain to result from problems in the back or shoulders.
Cervical osteoarthritis (also called cervical spondylosis) is a condition that involves changes to the bones, discs, and joints of the neck. The normal wear-and-tear of aging causes the discs of the cervical spine to gradually break down, lose fluid, and become stiff and painful.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease where the body's immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of the joints which then causes an inflammatory response and leads to pain, swelling, and stiffness. Chronic inflammation in the neck destroys the synovial joints - the joints that allow movement. When arthritis damages the synovial joints, the cervical spine can become unstable.
Cervical disc degeneration. There are six gel-like cervical discs that absorb shock and prevent vertebral bones from rubbing against each other while the neck moves. When the cushioning discs degenerate, the space between the vertebrae narrows and neck pain results. Cervical disc degeneration is not commonly found in people under the age of 40.
Diagnosis of neck injuries
Prior to prescribing a treatment plan, the first thing to do is to determine the source of a patient's neck pain. This is sometimes tougher than it may seem.
At Pinnacle Orthopaedics, one of our spine specialists will first take a complete history of the problem, ask about other medical conditions, and whether there was any previous treatment for the neck. Second, the doctor will perform a physical examination, which will include evaluation of some neck movements, neck tenderness, and nerve and muscle functions.
In some cases, it is necessary to obtain X-rays to ensure that the bones are intact. Additional tests may be recommended to complete the diagnosis and prescribe the right course of treatment. The tests may include:
MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) - allows evaluation of the spinal cord and nerve roots; it is not an x-ray.
Myelogram (injection of a dye or contrast material into the spinal canal) - this x-ray allows for very specific evaluation of the nerve roots and spinal canal.
CT (computed tomography) - is a specialized x-ray that allows the evaluation of the bone and spinal canal.
EMG (electromyogram) - allows the evaluation of the nerves and muscle function.
If you are suffering from neck pain, you should seek medical advice from a qualified and accredited spine specialist. The doctor should be consulted and medical care should always be sought when neck pain is:
continuous and persistent
accompanied by pain down the arms and/or legs
accompanied by headaches, numbness, and weakness.
The treatment type depends on the diagnosis made by the back doctor, but most patients can be treated successfully with rest, medication, immobilization, physical therapy, exercise, and activity modifications.
Rest is very important and prevents muscle overuse.
Medication is often given in the form of anti-inflammatory pills to reduce swelling from overuse or irritation of the muscles.
Immobilization allows the body to calm down and rest before getting back into stressful situations.
Physical therapy is important to teach various stretches as well as helping people to strengthen their muscles and alleviate pain resulting from overuse.
Surgery is sometimes used to treat neck pain if the pain persists after all other treatments have been applied. Surgery may be needed to reduce the pressure on the spinal cord or the nerve root (e.g. when the pain is caused by a herniated disc or narrowing of the spinal canal).
Surgery may also be recommended following an injury. The goal is to stabilize the neck and minimize the possibility of paralysis, particularly in cases when a fracture results in instability of the neck.
About Pinnacle Orthopaedics
At Pinnacle Orthopaedics, we utilize state-of-the-art technology and the latest surgical techniques to provide our patients with the highest quality orthopedic care. Our Fellowship Trained orthopedic specialists perform non-surgical and surgical procedures, treat sports injuries and repair trauma to the neck and spine.
To find out the best course of treatment for your neck problems, you can consult one of Pinnacle Orthopaedics' orthopedic spine surgeons in the following convenient locations:
Rest assured that you will be guided right from assessment and diagnosis to treatment and rehabilitation to ensure your full recovery.
If you still have any questions or wish to consult a member of our staff, please contact us or you can reach us at the contact information provided below:
Visit us at 300 Tower Road, Suite 101, Marietta, GA 30060
Make an enquire on our contact page.
The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Â Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.