Neck pain and care for neck pain affect most people over the age of 50. Neck pain is the fourth most common cause for disability worldwide. The difficult part when dealing with neck pain is figuring out when it is serious and needs to be seen by a medical provider.
Common Causes of Neck Pain
Neck pain can be caused by a number of different conditions. Most common reasons for neck pain include:
- muscle strains
- ‘wear and tear’ in the spine
- herniated or bulging discs
- neck trauma
In general, most early episodes of neck pain are short and last only a few days. Medical neck pain treatment should be right away, if your neck pain is caused by a traumatic event such as a car accident, bike accident, or fall. Otherwise, taking Tylenol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), as long there are no medical contraindications to those medications, can be a good way to manage neck pain early on. If an episode of neck pain lasts over two weeks, or the pain is rated a 10 on a 10 point pain scale (worst imaginable pain) in severity, these are also great reasons to seek further evaluation by a medical provider.
Arthritis, a wear and tear condition, is the most common reason for developing prolonged neck pain in adults over 40 years old. Arthritis commonly causes the discs in the neck, which typically provide a cushion between the bones of the neck and allow for motion, to degenerate and change shape. These discs lose their ability to provide smooth motion and absorb stress. The same process can affect the facet joints, which are paired small joints located towards the back of the neck.
As the joints, ligaments, and soft tissues in the neck change shape from the wear and tear process, they can press on the nerve roots or the spinal cord. Compression of the nerve roots in the neck can cause severe pain shooting down the arm, as well as numbness or weakness in the arm or hand. Compression of the spinal cord can cause problems with balance, hand dexterity, and even problems with controlling bowel and bladder function. Some people describe their hands as feeling clumsy especially when buttoning buttons or putting on jewelry. If any of these symptoms are present, an urgent evaluation by one of our skilled providers is a good idea.
Neck Pain Treatment
Neck pain treatment for cervical spine conditions varies from observation and conservative management with medications and injection, to surgery. For the most part, wear and tear conditions that cause neck pain without symptoms of nerve or spinal cord compressions can be managed with observation, medications to manage symptoms, and injections by our skilled providers. Nerve or spinal cord compression sometimes does require surgery to get better.
In short, neck pain is unfortunately common. When neck pain is around for two weeks or more, or is accompanied by trauma, arm symptoms, balance issues or dexterity problems, an evaluation by one of the ROC’s Spine and Pain care providers can be helpful.
Dr. Goz is a fellowship-trained spine surgeon that specializes in the treatment of neck issues including cervical spine stenosis, herniated disks, and cervical myelopathy. He is trained in the most current open and minimally invasive techniques including motion-preservation technology such as disc replacement. He believes in a conservative approach to medical care with surgery being a last resort, and that each patient deserves a unique and tailored approach.