Neck is a complex structure that consists of bones, joints, nerves, muscles, tendons and ligaments. Neck needs to perform a huge task to hold up and support the weight of your head. Neck pain is temporary and disappears with time most often. But medical diagnosis and treatment is necessary to reveal neck pain in some cases.
Seven vertebrae are present in the neck which is numbered from C1 to C7. These together forms the upper most region of the spinal column called cerebral spine. C1 vertebrae is called atlas and C2 is called axis vertebrae. Cushion like intervertebral discs are present in between the vertebrae which act as shock-absorbers.
Neck pain is not unusual and can occur due to various reasons. It may be caused by an injury or something other.
- Sitting in a location continuously for a long time.
- Sleeping on pillow that doesn’t support your head well may cause neck pain.
- Herniated discs can cause neck pain problems.
- Spinal canal may get narrowed due to disc bulging or thickening of spinal ligaments. It is called spinal stenosis and causes compression of spinal cord.
- Acute injuries that results from fall from significant height, contact sports or road accidents can danger soft tissues in the neck. Injuries from a whiplash may damage the spinal cord and can cause even paralysis.
- Excessive strain on the neck muscle can cause chronic neck pain and stiffness. The pain may be often worse and restrict the movement of the neck.
- Stress and tension can cause your neck to feel tight and painful.
- Cervical disc diseases can cause severe pain, numbness and weakness in your shoulders and arms.
- Osteoarthritis which results from the narrowing of the intervertebral discs is a major cause of neck pain problems.
- Rheumatoid arthritis can lead to stiff neck and severe pain.
- Sometimes infection such as tuberculosis of the neck or meningitis may cause neck pain.
Neck pain may range from a mild discomfort to immense, burning pain.
- Muscle spasm- unexpected and involuntary contraction of neck muscles
- Pain and stiffness in the neck, shoulder or upper chest
- Muscle ache
- It become painful and difficult to move or twist your neck
- Tingling, numbness or weakness in your arm
- Loss of balance
Neck pain can spread to the shoulders, upper back, or arms, or it may cause a headache.
The neck pain which has lasted more than three months can be considered as chronic.
To find the exact cause of your neck pain, your doctor needs to review your whole medical history and to conduct a physical examination before doing diagnostic tests.
- X-rays can be helpful in diagnosing neck and shoulder pain. It can show the bones of the cervical spine. It can reveal problems such as disc space narrowing, infection, degeneration and fractures.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – It can produce pictures of nerves and discs in addition to bones. Herniated disc problems and other soft tissue disorders can be detected by this painless and simple technology.
- Myelography- Using this procedure, subarachnoid space of the spine can be evaluated. Damages to the spinal nerve roots and tumors can also be detected.
- CAT (Computer Assisted Tomography) – It is useful to identify problems related with bones of spine much clearly than MRI.
- Electromyography (EMG) and Nerve Conduction Velocity test can diagnose of neck and shoulder pain and tingling.
Treatment and Medications
Medicines such as pain relievers, muscle relaxants or antidepressants can reveal neck pain and can prevent inflammation of soft tissues in the neck.
Anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen and pain relievers such as acetaminophen (like Tylenol) can be available without prescription.
- Your doctor may recommend you muscle relaxants like cyclobenzaprine or carisoprodol, which are used to treat severe neck pain and spasms.
- Pain relievers include codeine, aspirin, oxycodone etc.
- Antidepressants, which are used to treat chronic pain. They include doxepin (such as Silenor or Zonalon) and amitriptyline.
Heat or cold application and physical therapy like massage on the affected area of neck can produce positive results. Neck pain relief exercises can be practiced to get relief from severe pain. Home remedies like avoiding prolonged sitting in front of computer and maintaining a healthy body weight can also reduce neck pain problems.