Understanding Neck Pain

To understand neck pain, it helps to understand the anatomy of the neck. The cervical vertebrae, the spine of the neck, is composed of seven vertebrae that surround the spinal cord and canal. Between these vertebrae are discs, and the nerves of the neck pass nearby. Within the neck, structures include the skin, neck muscles, arteries, veins, lymph nodes, thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, esophagus, larynx, and trachea. In addition to other causes, diseases or conditions that affect any of these tissues of the neck can lead to neck pain.

Neck pain, which is very common, particularly in those over 50, can occur from the bottom of your head to the top of your shoulders. It can spread to your upper back or arms. It may limit how much you can move your head and neck. Neck pain arises from numerous and differing conditions and is sometimes referred to as cervical pain. The intensity and duration of this pain can cause sufferers a considerable amount of disability and time lost from work. It can also result in serious depression.

Most neck pain is caused by activities that strain the neck. Slouching, painting a ceiling, or sleeping with your neck twisted are some things that can cause neck pain. These kinds of activities can lead to neck strain, a sprain, or a spasm of the neck muscles. Neck pain can also be caused by an injury. A fall from a ladder or a car accident that results in whiplash can cause neck pain. Some less common medical problems, which can also lead to neck pain include an infection in the neck, cervical spinal stenosis or rheumatoid arthritis.

Those who suffer from chronic neck pain often have one or a combination of the following symptoms:

  • Stiffness
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Sharp shooting pain
  • Tender neck muscles
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hearing swishing sounds
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness

Pain can include a dull ache or a sharp, stabbing pain, and it can start suddenly or develop gradually over time.

Often you will find swollen glands or lymph nodes in the neck. For patients who have neck pain with a lack of coordination, they may have other symptoms, such as trouble with fine motor skills and occasional intermittent shooting pain. Additionally, neck pain can worsen if you are experiencing a significant amount of stress or other emotional issues.

After 3-4 weeks of pain with an injury or ongoing neck pain, the condition is considered chronic. In addition to the causes outlined above, chronic neck pain may result from improper treatment in the early stages of a neck injury or a condition, or failure to recognize the need for treatment.

If your pain began following an injury, or if it doesn’t improve after a few weeks, your orthopedic doctor may want to do more tests. Imaging tests such as an X-ray, an MRI scan, or a CT scan can show the neck muscles and tissues. These tests may be done to check the neck bones, spinal discs, spinal nerve roots and spinal cord.

For a thorough evaluation of neck pain, a pain management specialist, such as Dr. Steven Horowitz, provides both experience and a vast array of remedies, beginning with the most conservative, non-invasive measures.