Severe neck pain, also referred to as cervical neck pain, is a very common medical condition and can be acute, lasting for a short period of time, or chronic. If cervical neck pain lasts longer than six weeks it can be considered chronic.
What are the symptoms of chronic neck pain?
- Severe neck pain
- Stiffness in the neck area
- Shoulder or back pain occurring with severe neck pain
- Shooting or radiating pain to your shoulders or down your arms
- Weakness, numbness or tingling in your neck, shoulders, arms or fingers
What are the causes of chronic neck pain?
There are many different reasons for chronic neck pain ranging in severity. It may result from abnormalities in the muscles, ligaments, nerves, bones, or joint. These causes may include:
- Muscle strain – muscle strains are caused by muscle-fiber tears due to overstretching
- Worn joints or inflammatory diseases – diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis can destroy joints in the neck causing severe neck pain
- Degenerative disk disorders – disk disorders such as cervical disk degeneration can cause severe neck pain. In cervical disk degeneration, the gelatin-like substance in the center of the disk degenerates and the space between the vertebrae narrows causing added stress to the joints
- Injuries – the neck is very vulnerable to injury. Car accidents, sports injuries, or even falls can result in neck injury
- Poor Posture - Poor posture results from certain muscles tightening up or shortening while others lengthen and become weak which often occurs as a result of one’s daily activities
How will a doctor diagnose my chronic neck pain?
A thorough history and physical exam will be completed during your office visit. However, sometimes additional tests will need to be conducted including:
- X-Rays - assists the doctor in diagnosing
- Blood tests – allows the doctor to evaluate if there is an underlying illness causing the pain
- EMG (Electromyography) – allows evaluation of nerve and muscle function
- CT scan (Computerized tomography scan) – allows evaluation of the bone and spinal canal
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) – allows an evaluation of the spinal cord and nerve roots
What are my treatment options for severe neck pain?
Treatment options for severe neck pain include:
- Pain medication – there are many over the counter pain relievers including aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen. If over the counter pain relievers are not strong enough to help your severe neck pain there are prescription pain medications such as muscle relaxers, antidepressants, anti-inflammatory medicines, anticonvulsants, or opioid analgesics that can be prescribed.
- Heat and cold – place an ice pack on the painful area for up to 20 minutes several times a day. Alternate the cold with heat. Heat can help to calm sore muscles. However, it can also aggravate inflammation therefore use it with caution
- Rest – your neck muscles are used constantly to hold up your head. Throughout the day take a few minutes to lie down and give your neck a rest
- Stretching or physical therapy – gentle stretching can help stretch the muscles alleviating some of your severe neck pain. After seeing a doctor it may be recommended that you see a physical therapist for additional stretching and exercise
- Topical anesthetic cream – there are many products, usually containing menthol or camphor, that are made to temporarily relieve muscle and joint pain
- Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) – delivers mild electric pulses to the nerve endings under the skin in the painful area causing the pain signal to be blocked
- Injections – injections of medication directly into the muscles or joints associated with the neck can help relieve chronic neck pain. Injections may include a steroid, such as cortisone, or numbing medications.
- Massage – massage will increase blood flow and bring warmth to a stressed area; however, since the neck may be sensitive the massage therapist will be cautious
For additional information on chronic neck pain please call Southeast Pain and Spine Care to schedule an appointment with one of our pain management doctors.