Your neck is made up of seven flat bones called the cervical vertebrae. They link together and support your head from the rest of your body, but sometimes, they can cause pain. Down the middle of these bones is a channel for your spinal cord, and the nerves that serve the face, arms, and upper chest run between these bones.
Pair that with the great blood vessels that supply the brain, and you have a great deal of engineering in one tiny place.
For this reason, any minor problem with the bones, nerves, or muscles of the neck can cause pain. Even just moving your head from side to side can be an ordeal, but more complicated neck pain often involves the arms, and can even extend as far as your bowel and bladder control.
Causes of Neck Pain
Since neck pain is rather broad, you can have many different causes of your pain. The most common cause is a simple strain of the muscles or ligaments in your neck. This can be caused by sleeping the wrong way or awkwardly moving your head. Also, the joints between the bones of the neck can become worn down in a process known as arthritis. This would make it painful to move your neck through a range of motion because of the bones sliding against each other.
One of the most common complicated reasons for neck pain is a bulging or stiffened disks. Between each vertebra are jelly filled disks that cushion the spine and aid in movement. These disks can become diseased, break out of their membrane, and push on nerves coming out from the spinal cord. This can cause pain in not only the neck but the arms and chest, as well.
Other causes of neck pain include traumatic injuries from a car accident, such as whiplash. This is an overextension of the ligaments of the neck that are very painful. You can also have an infection of the protective covering of the spinal cord, called meningitis, that can cause neck pain. Rarely, cancer of the spine can cause you to have pain in your neck, but this is often cancer that has metastasized from elsewhere.
Of course, the most common symptom of neck pain is discomfort and pain in the neck region. However, cervical neck pain can have different qualities depending on cause.
Some neck pain is just the feeling of a pulled or strained muscle. You may have muscle aches or pulling when you move your head.
When you have pain that it shooting or throbbing, though, you should see a doctor. Any pain in your neck that radiates to your arms or upper chest should be evaluated by a medical professional.
In addition, if you have weakness, tingling, or numbness in your arm, you should have your doctor assess you because it likely means that the nerves are involved. Another sign of nerve involvement is the inability to touch your chin to your chest.
Very rarely, you may lose your inability to control your bowel of bladder with neck pain. If you experience this, you should see a doctor immediately.
Neck Pain Treatment
The frontline treatment for neck pain is usually medications. Your doctor will likely recommend that you take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as ibuprofen, to help with the swelling and pain caused by a muscle strain.
If you have a more complicated cause of neck pain, then narcotic pain relievers may be necessary for a short period of time. However, this is rare as most neck pain results from strained muscles.
The second option for treating neck pain is exercise and immobilization. You can perform exercises taught to you by physical therapists to strengthen your neck muscles and increase flexibility. In some cases, immobilization with a neck brace is necessary to rest the muscles and allow them to heal.
Traction, or pulling your head up from your body, can sometimes relieve pain and help to decrease inflammation. You should not try any of these treatments without the consent of a doctor and a physical therapist.
The final option is for neck surgery. Doctors are often reluctant to perform surgery on the vertebrae of the neck because it usually causes a decrease in flexibility. In the surgery, the doctor removes the diseased disk and fuses the two vertebrae together to form one large bone. This could keep you from turning your head fully or sleeping comfortably.
Unfortunately, this method does not always relieve pain, so it is often used as a last resort.
If you want to heal your chronic neck pain, it is recommended that you focus on rest, exercise, and medications first before rushing into a cervical discectomy surgery or other procedure. Contact us to see the best method for your case.
Dr. Bryan Oh Explains Common Causes of Neck Pain
- Back Pain
- Brachial Plexus Injuries
- Cervical Radiculopathy
- Lumbar Radiculopathy
- Compression Fractures
- Degenerative Disc Disease (Cervical and Lumbar)
- Facet Joint Syndrome
- Failed Back or Neck Syndrome
- Herniated Disc
- Lower back pain
- Nerve Impingement
- Spinal Infection
- Spinal Canal Stenosis (Cervical and Lumbar)
- Spinal Cord Compression
- Spina Bifida
- Cervical Neck Pain
- Lumbar Back Pain
- Lumbar Disc Herniation
- Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF)
- Posterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (PLIF)
- Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF)
- Artificial Disc Replacement
- Endoscopic Spine Surgery
- Posterior Cervical Foraminotomy
- Micro Endoscopic Lumbar Discectomy
- Micro Endoscopic Cervical Discectomy
- Extreme Lateral Interbody Fusion (XLIF®)
- Interlaminar Lumbar Instrumented Fusion (ILIF™)
- Facet Joint Injections
- Pain Pumps
- Spinal Cord Implants
- MILD Procedure (Minimally Invasive Lumbar Decompression)
- Ultra Minimally Invasive Endoscopic Spinal Surgery