Nearly 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, which is more than diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer COMBINED. Chronic neck pain is one of the most common chronic pain conditions. Fortunately, most neck pain is caused by sprains or strains, which typically get better on their own with time, rest, and anti-inflammatory medications. Neck pain that persists for more than 3-6 months is classified as chronic and can lead to significant pain and functional restrictions.
The neck is a profoundly complicated area. Aside from the spine itself, the neck is comprised of muscles, ligaments, tendons, and nerves. All of these individual parts work together to allow the neck to function appropriately. The simple act of grabbing a coffee mug from a cabinet is a highly specialized process that requires cooperation of these parts. Therefore, any segment of the neck that is not working properly may lead to pain and functional deficits.
There are a few particular symptoms that are critical to look out for. If you are exhibiting loss of strength in your neck, loss of strength in your arms or legs, numbness in one or both of your arms or legs, severe headaches, and/or tiredness or confusion, you should make an appointment to visit with your doctor for evaluation as soon as possible.
In order to determine the best way to treat neck pain, your doctor will first work towards determining the reason for the pain. There are many causes of neck pain including: arthritis, muscle strain, fracture, disc degeneration, disc herniation, and advanced thickening of spinal ligaments. It is critically important to diagnose which issue or combination of issues may be contributing to the pain, as each diagnosis carries with it a different treatment plan.
Many causes of neck pain can be treated quickly and effectively leading to the patient’s resolution of pain and return of function. There are some diagnoses, however, that may not entirely resolve even with treatment. For example, arthritis of the cervical spine is not reversible. But arthritis can certainly be treated and managed. Many patients with advanced arthritis are still able to participate in activities such as: bowling, tennis, cooking, or even just cleaning up around the house.
All in all, dealing with neck pain is like dealing with any other medical issue. After coming to a diagnosis, the next step is to implement an effective treatment plan. Treatment modalities include: physical therapy, medication management, and even interventions if necessary. It is also critically important to recognize the activities to avoid that may worsen the pain. With the help of your pain physician, you will be able to come to a diagnosis and treatment plan that best suits your needs.