Therapy to treat neck pain is one of the most commonly requested services due to the large number of individuals suffering from acute or chronic neck issues. Neck pain is more prevalent among women than men, but the majority of people experience neck pain at some point.
Neck pain that suddenly occurs and dissipates within three months is categorized as “acute” neck pain, and is commonly caused by injuries such as whiplash. “Chronic” neck pain is persistent and lasts more than three months. The cause of chronic neck pain includes multiple sources generating from ligaments, joints, discs and muscular sources.
Why is the Neck Susceptible to Injury?
Ligaments attached to each vertebra provide support and flexibility to the spine and the surrounding muscles. The muscles and ligaments in and surrounding the spine and neck often become irritated and strained due to excess use and heavy lifting, which can cause nerve irritation and injuries.
The cervical spine consists of seven vertebrae along with the surrounding muscles, joints, ligaments and nerves. Together, these components provide both support and mobility for the head and neck. The cervical spine is unique in that it allows a wide range of motion making it the most flexible area of the spine. While this allows for great utility, it makes the neck susceptible to muscle and ligament strain.
The cervical vertebrae responsible for the neck’s rotational ability are known as the Axis and Atlas. These vertebrae form joints that connect the spine and head. The nerves in this area of the cervical spine can often become inflamed and pinched leading to pain in the neck, head and face.
What are the Most Common Causes of Neck Pain?
Neck pain clinics Orange County
Injury or trauma sustained to the muscles, ligaments and/or tendons
Activities such as heavy lifting and overuse contribute greatly to neck pain. Falling asleep in awkward positions can also lead to neck pain. Occupations requiring intensive use of the head and neck can lead to chronic neck pain requiring treatment.
Whiplash often occurs in rear end motor vehicle accidents. The impact often causes the neck muscles to hyperextend leading to soft tissue strain. Whiplash ranges in severity to minor discomfort to permanent ligament and/or tendon damage. Whiplash pain typically intensifies within the first few days as the neck feels stiff and strained. Certain movements including rotating and bending the neck can cause pain to intensify. Symptoms can last from just a few days to months depending on severity.
Arthritis in the neck is caused degeneration of the cervical vertebrae and surrounding joints. Symptoms commonly occur around the age of 40, but can manifest earlier, especially if individual suffered trauma to the neck. As a person ages, the arthritis gets worse, as the disc continues to decay or herniate, causing pain.
Spinal stenosis occurs when the spinal canal narrows leading to the compression of the spinal cord and nerves. This compression leads to moderate to severe pain which can manifest in the form of numbness, cramps, or shooting pain in the surrounding area, legs or arms.
Sufferers of spinal stenosis often report pain in the upper neck and shoulders. Researchers have found that persistent neck pain can increase one’s vulnerability to depression causing the pain to grow worse and intensify (Blozik 2009). The researcher shows that it is important to mitigate physical causes of stress as well as emotional triggers that lead to stress.
How is Neck Pain Diagnosed and Treated?
Diagnosing neck can be difficult to diagnose. A physician may perform a physical test asking the individual to perform certain movements. The physician may also attempt to gently manipulate the affected area to look for signs of tenderness, pain and limited mobility. Diagnosing neck pain can also include diagnostic imaging tests such as x-ray, CT scan or MRI.
There are several treatment options for individuals experiencing neck pain. Healthcare providers typically start out with minimally invasive treatment methods, which have proven to be effective for many. These noon-invasive treatment options include:
Pharmacotherapy – over the counter pain medication such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin and muscle relaxants can be effective at mitigating symptoms of neck pain.
Epidural Injections – epidural steroid injections are effective at reducing pain in conditions such as degenerative disc disease or cases of acute injuries that cause severe pain. This method is involves the physician injecting a steroid into the spinal cord allowing the medication to spread throughout the affected areas.
Denervation – also known as cervical medial branch blocks, this non-surgical treatment is popular among neck pain specialists. The treatment is done through injections that reduce inflammation and irritation within the joints that cause pain. In a study published in Pain Physician Journal, (Manchikanti et al., 2006) concluded medial branch blocks were effective at treating chronic neck pain resulting in significant pain relief at 3, 6 and 12 month assessments.
Nutrition and exercise – lifestyle changes including proper diet and exercise are common recommendations. Many people experience pain reduction through weight loss and nutrition.