Neck Pain: Causes and Treatments
Many people suffer from debilitating neck pain that can stem from many different diseases, disorders and injuries. This common medical problem is responsible for countless hours of suffering and prevents many people from living normal lives. The causes of neck pain are as diverse as those who suffer. The location of the neck alone makes it susceptible to injury as it is mainly left unprotected, but injuries are only one cause of problems and pain in the neck. Many diseases and conditions such as degenerative disc disease, a pinched nerve or some types of infections can lead to severe neck pain. Before neck pain can be effectively treated, there are certain diagnostic procedures that physicians use to determine the exact reasons for the pain. Once a diagnosis is made, specific treatment is prescribed to help alleviate the problem.
Determining the Underlying Cause of Neck Pain
Neck pain that lasts more than a few days is a cause for concern. It is best not to wait too long before seeking medical attention hoping the pain will just go away. Lifting a heavy object, sleeping in the wrong position or stretching the neck muscles through exercise may cause neck pain symptoms that usually subside in a few days. Any lingering neck pain that gets worse may signal a more serious condition. Herniated or bulging discs in the cervical spine may be causing the pain if they press on a nerve. Numbness, tingling or weakness in the neck should not be ignored. Continuous and persistent in the neck requires medical attention to determine the exact cause.
When a person is suffering from neck pain of unknown origin, doctors usually order certain specific tests to help them determine the underlying of the pain. One of the most common diagnostic test involves taking x-rays of the affected area. If these are inconclusive, the physician will recommend that the patient undergo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This test produces detailed images that can detect damage or disease in the body. Another diagnostic imaging procedure, known as CAT scan, uses computer technology to show detailed images of the body. This procedure is much more technical and can reveal more than general x-rays. An electromyogram (EMG) tests nerve and muscle function to help pinpoint the source of neck pains. Other procedures may include blood tests or a myelogram.
Some Common Conditions Related to Neck Pain
Neck injuries sustained in car accidents such as whiplash can cause extensive pain in the neck and shoulders. Arthritis, worn joints, osteoporosis, ruptured disk or even muscle strain can cause neck pain. Fibromyalgia is a disease characterized by recurring neck and back pain. A painful neck can be a symptom of a migraine headache. Some more serious illnesses and diseases may cause severe neck pain including cancer of the spine or meningitis. A stiff neck that is accompanied by pain could signal a potentially serious condition. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.
Available Treatment Options
A qualified physician will determine specific treatment for neck pain based on the results of the patient's medical history, a thorough physical examination and diagnostic tests. Proper treatment depends on the patient's age, general health, medical history and severity of the condition. Medical intervention may include prescribing medication to temporarily control the pain and reduce inflammation in the short term. Neck pain resulting from an injury may require a neck brace or some type of immobilization device to prevent further injury during the recovery process. Physical therapy and exercise may be a part of the treatment. Surgery may be required with some serious injuries.
Other Treatment Options
Acute neck pain usually responds to over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs help relieve pain by reducing swelling. Physicians may prescribe a muscle relaxant that helps relieve muscle spasms in the neck. With serious chronic pain, doctors sometimes treat neck pain with spinal injections along with physical therapy. Mild anti-depressants may be used to treat neck pain in some patients. This medication is effective because it enables the body to produce more endorphins, which is a natural pain killer. Physical therapy that includes manual massage or manipulation can help relieve some types of neck pain.
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends that those suffering from neck pain should consult a doctor if the is intense, lasts longer than a few days and does not readily respond to over-the-counter medications. It is important to find the source of the problem and not just treat the symptoms. Medications only mask the underlying problem by temporarily relieving the pain, but do not treat it.