Neck pain is discomfort in any of the structures in the neck, which can include the muscles, nerves, spinal vertebrae, and the cushioning disks in between the spinal vertebrae.
Causes of Neck Pain
There are a variety of causes for neck pain, including muscle strains, worn joints, nerve compression, injuries, and diseases. A common cause of neck pain is muscle strain or tension, which occurs usually as a result of everyday activities such as having poor posture or too many hours hunched over a desk. Your neck joints will experience wear and tear with age leading to osteoarthritis in your neck and causing symptoms of neck pain. Nerve compression occurs when the herniated disks or bone spurs in the vertebrae of your neck take up too much space and press on the nerves branching out from the spinal cord. Extreme accidents or falls can also cause neck injuries, such as vertebral fractures, blood vessel injury, or whiplash. Diseases such as meningitis, cancer, or rheumatoid arthritis can cause neck pain.
When experiencing neck pain, movement of the neck feels restricted, you may have difficult moving it, and many people describe this as having a stiff neck. The pain develops in the neck and may spread to the shoulder or base of the skull. If the neck pain involves nerves, the individual may feel numbness, tingling, or weakness in the arm, hand, or elsewhere. As a result of the nerves becoming pinched in the neck, other symptoms of neck pain can include headache, facial pain, and shoulder pain.
There are a number of different ways in which a doctor can examine and test for neck pain. During a physical exam, a doctor will check for tenderness, numbness, or muscle weakness as well as examine your ability to move your head forward, backward, and side to side. Imaging tests, such as X-rays, computerized tomography (CT) scan, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), can further provide a better picture of what might be causing the neck pain. If it is suspected that your neck pain may be related to a pinched nerve, the doctor may suggest electromyography (EMG), which involves inserting very fine needles through your skin into the muscle to determine whether specific nerves are functioning properly. Lab tests, such as blood tests or spinal tap (lumbar puncture), can help to provide evidence of infections or disease processes that may be causing your neck pain.
Most common types of neck pain usually respond well to home care and may resolve on its own. However, if your neck pain persists, it is important to seek medical attention as a doctor may recommend other treatments. Pain medications may be prescribed by your doctor, which are stronger than the typical over the counter pain medication. A doctor may recommend that you receive therapy, such as physical therapy, traction, or short-term immobilization, in order to relief the pain, improve and restore muscle function, and increase strength and endurance in the neck muscle. More severe symptoms of neck pain may require steroid injections or surgery in order to relieve the pain or relieve spinal cord compression.