Neck pain is a common condition that affects people of all ages. In this section, we will explore with an orthopedic specialist the different types of neck pain, underlying causes, common symptoms, when to seek medical attention, and available treatments.
What is neck pain?
Neck pain is a condition where discomfort, tension, or pain is felt in the upper part of the spine and the base of the skull. This problem is often caused by poor posture, injuries, or diseases.
Types of neck pain
There are several different types of neck pain that vary in intensity and duration. The most common ones include:
Acute neck pain:
This type of intense pain usually lasts less than four weeks. It occurs suddenly and can result from an injury or overexertion.
Chronic neck pain:
It is a more persistent and long-lasting form of pain that can persist for more than three months. It is often caused by sustained poor postures and can be more challenging to treat than acute pain.
Radicular neck pain:
Radicular neck pain occurs due to the irritation or compression of nerves exiting the spinal column. This pain can radiate to other parts of the body, such as the arms and hands.
Causes of neck pain
There are many different underlying causes that can lead to neck pain. Some of the main causes include:
- Head or neck injuries.
- Postural problems, such as poor spinal alignment.
- Herniated discs.
- Arthritis or degeneration of the spine.
- Muscle strains.
Common symptoms of neck pain
The symptoms of neck pain can vary depending on the cause and severity of the pain. The most common signs include:
- Stiffness or muscle spasms in the neck.
- Sharp or stabbing pain in the neck or base of the skull.
- Difficulty moving the head or rotating the neck.
- Headaches, dizziness, or vertigo.
- Radiating tingling, numbness, or weakness in the arms or hands.
- Clicking or crunching sound when moving the neck.
- Shoulder or upper back pain.
When to see a doctor for neck pain?
People should consult a doctor for neck pain if:
- The pain worsens despite self-care.
The pain persists after several weeks of rest.
- The pain radiates to the arms or legs.
- The pain is accompanied by headaches, weakness, numbness, or tingling.
- The pain is intense or shooting.
- The pain is associated with a traumatic injury, fever, or muscle weakness.
It is important to seek specialized medical attention to prevent the development of more complex conditions, such as a herniated disc or nerve impingement.
Treatments for neck pain
Treatments for neck pain are chosen based on its cause and intensity. The most frequently used treatment options are:
Over-the-counter pain relievers (such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen) are very useful for relieving pain and inflammation. In some cases, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or muscle relaxants may also be prescribed.
Physical therapy can teach you exercises to improve posture, alignment, and neck strengthening. The doctor may also recommend the use of heat, ice, massages, or other measures to reduce pain. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) can provide pain relief through small electrical impulses applied to the skin near the painful areas.
A soft collar is a padded band that is placed around the neck to limit its movement. It can help alleviate pain for a short period of time. However, it should not be used for more than a week as it can weaken the neck muscles.
Surgery is one of the less common options for treating neck pain and is only considered necessary when there is a serious underlying cause such as a herniated disc, nerve impingement, or an infection that doesn’t respond to other treatments. Surgery may involve removing part of the disc or bone that is compressing the nerve or spinal cord, or fusing two or more vertebrae to stabilize the neck.