It Starts in the Spine
The spine is comprised of multiple segments of bones, discs, ligaments, and muscles. This chain extends from the tailbone to the base of the skull. The neck region is referred to as the cervical spine. This spinal segment supports the head while also protecting the nerves and spinal cord. With several facet joints, discs, vertebrae, and nerves all working together, the cervical spine may be prone to injury and deterioration due to poor posture. Damage to any one of these structures can lead to pain.
What Causes Neck Pain?
The neck region is flexible and supports both the weight and the range of motion of the head. As such, it is vulnerable to several factors that may restrict motion and cause pain. These include:
- Muscle strains, which may occur due to overuse. Overuse may include spending time hunched over a desk or using a computer.
- Nerve compression may result from misalignment of the bones in the cervical spine. Nerves may also become irritated and inflamed if a disc herniates and presses against them. Nerve compression may cause pain in the neck as well as other areas along the path of the affected nerve.
- Joint deterioration. All joints in the body may wear down over time. The neck joints are no exception. Degeneration usually involves the progressive wearing of the cartilaginous discs between the vertebrae of the spine. Severe degeneration, called osteoarthritis, can result in bone spurs that press against nerve roots and affect the movement of the neck.
- An injury such as whiplash may lead to severe neck pain due to the intense strain placed on the soft tissues of the neck.
Can Whiplash Cause Chronic Neck Pain?
Most doctors expect whiplash to resolve within several weeks of an injury. This may be the case for many people, especially when adequate medical treatment is obtained right away. In some cases, however, the pain and limited range of motion resultant from a whiplash injury can persist for many years.
A whiplash injury may cause pain and stiffness as well as several other symptoms, including:
- Ringing in the ears
- Chronic headaches
- Upper and lower back pain
- Bouts of dizziness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Blurry vision
- Numbness or other symptoms in the arms and hands
- Jaw pain
One study conducted several years ago suggested that long-term symptoms from a whiplash injury may affect up to 71% of people In this study, a high percentage of whiplash patients reported at least one persistent symptom 7 years after their initial injury.
What are The Pain Management Options for Neck Pain?
Neck pain related to an injury, poor posture, or ongoing degeneration may be managed using remedies such as over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, rest, a special pillow, and ice or heat. These ways of treating the neck may reduce symptoms but are not intended to resolve the underlying source of pain. Additional treatments that may be advised include:
- Anti-inflammatory medication
- Corticosteroid injections administered into inflamed joint space
- Physical therapy may assist with good posture and strengthening the muscles of the neck and back.
- Surgery may be recommended when comfort does not improve with conservative therapies.
More recently, regenerative medicine protocols have been developed to reduce inflammation and tissue damage. Patients of the Art of Pain Management in Philadelphia or Upper Darby may be helped with sources such as stem cells or platelet-rich plasma. The treatments used in regenerative medicine are designed to insert the body’s healing substances directly at the point of injury to induce repair processes.
Can Neck Pain Indicate a Serious Condition?
There are potentially serious conditions that may include neck pain as a symptom, Examples include meningitis and heart attack. It is important to consider other symptoms that occur alongside neck pain when determining if the problem is musculoskeletal or related to something entirely different. For instance, a person who has neck pain caused by meningitis may have a headache, high fever, and swollen glands, as well. Neck pain is rarely the sole symptom of a more serious condition.
Musculoskeletal neck pain that is ongoing for months or years may indicate a larger problem such as spinal stenosis, in which the space inside the spinal canal becomes narrower. Fortunately, most musculoskeletal problems can be repaired with proper medical intervention. Surgery is considered as a last resort and may be postponed when conservative therapies like PRP or stem cell injections are administered early.
What Can I Do at Home to Relieve Neck Pain?
Depending on the severity of neck pain, symptoms may be reduced by taking an over-the-counter pain reliever or anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen. Ice may be applied to reduce inflammation and discomfort. Heat may be applied to soothe muscle tension. These are not long-term solutions for chronic neck pain. When pain persists, it is necessary to have an examination performed by a trusted healthcare professional.
Can I Exercise with Neck Pain?
Patients are encouraged to limit activities that place pressure on the neck. Due to the complexity of the spinal column, even turning the head to the side or straining to lift weights over the head could exacerbate an existing injury.
Schedule a Consultation
Neck pain may indicate the degeneration of vital spinal structures. To explore how platelet-rich plasma (PRP) or stem cell therapy may help ease the symptoms of neck injuries, call 215-375-7107 and schedule a visit to Philadelphia or Upper Darby office.