Neck pain is also known as cervicalgia and can take a toll on a person’s quality of life. Two-thirds of the population have suffered from neck pain at some point in their lives. About 330 people worldwide suffer from neck pain annually, which translates to 4.9 percent of the globe’s population. It is less common than lower back pain and is more common in women who make up 5.7 percent of sufferers rather than men who comprise 3.9 percent of neck pain patients.
Causes of Neck Pain
Neck pain may be due to many spinal issues. Muscle tightness or nerve pinching may result in cervicalgia, as can any joint disruption. Conditions that result in significant neck pain are head and neck cancer pain and referred pain from an acute coronary syndrome. Infections such as retropharyngeal abscess or epiglottis are also causes of neck pain. Spinal disc herniation where discs protrude or bulge to cause severe pain or degenerative arthritis and osteomyelitis are responsible for acute neck pain.
Many common causes of neck pain do not result from disease or infection. These include neck pain related to physical or emotional stress, where muscles are tightened. Prolonged postures, such as sleeping or sitting in an awkward position, also cause pain. Whiplash injuries, pinched nerves, and other minor injuries or traumas can result in chronic or acute back pain. Overuse of muscles and referred pain from other upper back issues may also contribute to pain in the cervical region.
Diagnosis of Neck Pain
Neck pain may emanate from any of the neck’s structures. These include the vascular, digestive, nerve, skeletal, muscular, or airway structures. An initial evaluation and assessment will consist of taking your medical history and noting any issues such as weakness, numbness, weight loss, or tenderness. The location, severity, duration, and any radiation of pain will be recorded, and the doctor will check functions by having the patient move the neck and head. The doctor may also ask if the pain is made worse by coughing, sneezing, or by any particular movements.
Imaging tests used in the diagnosis of neck pain include x-rays, which show nerves and spinal cord issues as well as any disc problems. CT scans reveal the cross-sectional views of the neck and show any issues with internal structures, while MRI scans show details of bones and soft images are used to make a diagnosis.
Other tests that may be used include electromyography. This is used if your doctor suspects a pinched nerve. Blood tests are used to rule out any inflammatory or infection issues that may cause pain.
Treatment with medication
Most cases of neck pain respond well to conservative treatment and self-care regimes. If the treatment does not provide any improvement after two or three weeks, the doctor will suggest other treatment options.
Analgesics such as acetaminophen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents such as ibuprofen are routinely prescribed for neck pain. These are often coupled with muscle-relaxants. However, studies show that acetaminophen is not particularly useful in muscle pain, and the muscle relaxant cyclobenzaprine showed low efficiency in treating acute cervical strain. It may still be helpful in treating neck pain that emanates due to other reasons.
Injections of corticosteroids may be beneficial in relieving pain. These are injected near the roots of the nerves for maximum efficiency. Numbing agents such as lidocaine may also be injected to provide pain relief.
Treatment with Surgery
Surgery is usually not indicated for causes of neck pain, such as pinched nerves or herniated discs. Surgery is only indicated if there is spinal cord compression or debilitating pain that results in disability and loss of function. Surgery is considered after more conservative methods of pain alleviation have been tried and found wanting.
Alternative treatment methods
Physical therapists will use ice, heat, stimulation, and other ways to ease pain and improve symptoms.
Alternative pain management methods include exercise and joint manipulation. Manipulation is an effective pain alleviation method in both acute and chronic mechanical neck issues. Cervical manipulation and cervical mobilization are also valid methods to manage neck pain with multiple cervical manipulation sessions being more effective than certain conventional pain relief medications. Thoracic manipulation is another method to improve function and relieve pain.
Low levels of laser therapy show good results in neck pain management. Relief of pain after laser therapy is often immediate and can last for up to 22 weeks. Laser therapy is more effective in people with neck pain that is arising from the muscles and joints and has no discernible cause such as a slipped or herniated disc. Low-level laser therapy is also useful in pain and stiffness resulting from arthritis.
Massage provides short term pain relief, but long-term evidence of efficiency is inconclusive. Massage soothes the muscles and alleviates muscle tension resulting in some pain relief to the area.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Traction, and Radiofrequency denervation
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is better than no treatment at all in reducing neck pain in a short-term way. CBT may show better results if combined with other neck pain management methods. Radiofrequency denervation has some short-term pain relief benefits, while mechanical traction may be slightly beneficial but has many side effects.
Prevention of Neck Pain
Correcting posture and learning suitable gentle exercises to strengthen bones, muscles, and ligaments is vital in neck pain prevention. Eating a nutritious and well-balanced diet and sleeping in a good position with proper support to your neck is essential. When you sleep, your neck should be in the same position it is when you are standing. You may have to try more than one pillow to find one that suits your neck and archives the optimum sleeping position.
Avoid carrying anything heavy. If you do carry something substantial, make sure it is appropriately balanced, picked up with the correct, bending at the knees posture, and not carried on one shoulder. Take frequent breaks, and when working, make sure your monitor is at eye level and that your desk and chair are at suitable levels. Self-care measures such as over the counter pain relievers and alternative heat and cold packs can also help to reduce the inflammation that results from overuse or simple muscle strains that causes pain.