An Overview of Neck Pain

Most people will experience neck pain at some point in their lives, and roughly 10 percent of the world’s population experiences neck pain each year. The spine is divided into three parts: lumbar (lower); thoracic (middle) and the cervical area, which includes the first 10 vertebra of the spine. This area is responsible for supporting the head, allowing for movement and rotation of the neck. Because it is able to rotate, flex and tilt, it can become a vulnerable place for a sprain or injury. Spinal pain is among the most common entity encountered by the staff at Louisiana Pain Specialists. Neck pain can be a significant source of discomfort for many patients and may be related to muscle, nerve, bone, joint, arthritic or disc problems.

Muscle Strains

Triggers for the onset of neck muscle straining can be traced to several common activities, so be mindful of your day-to-day antics if you experience neck pain. If you hunch over a computer or a steering wheel, carry heavy objects on one side of your body (like a large purse or briefcase), cradle a phone in the crook of your neck while multi-tasking or even sleep on a pillow that’s too firm, that could likely be the culprit leading to discomfort. Most minor strains of ligaments, tendons and muscles in the neck can heal within a day or so.

Common cures for this include icing the sore area to reduce the inflammation; applying heat to increase blood flow; over-thecounter medications like Ibuprofen or Advil (anti-inflammation) or Tylenol (a pain reliever). Massages may also help. If the stiffness or pain in the neck lasts for more than a day or two, it is recommended to see a professional.

Disks and Nerves

If you experience neck pain that radiates down the arm – and sometimes into the hands and fingers – it is likely caused by a cervical herniated disk or foraminal stenosis pinching a nerve in the neck. When a patient has a symptomatic herniated disk, the disk itself isn’t painful – but the material that leaks out from inside the disk pinches or irritates a nearby nerve. This produces radicular pain (nerve root pain), which may radiate to other parts of the body.

Foraminal stenosis is the narrowing of the cervical disk space caused by enlargement of a joint in the spinal canal, usually caused by one nerve root on one side. Symptoms include non-continuous pain developing slowly over the years and can be traced back to a specific physical activity or sleeping position.

If you suffer from neck or upper back pain that travels to your extremities, a possible solution would be an epidural injection to provide relief. The epidural injection procedure involves the X-ray guided injection of medications, usually a pain reliever (anesthetic) and an anti-inflammatory (steroid) into an area called the epidural space. The epidural space is just outside the spinal cord and very close to the nerves of the spine. The medications injected into the epidural space reduce inflammation in the spinal nerves as well as block the pain signals from reaching the brain. Other treatment plans may include acupuncture, physical therapy, chiropractic therapy or massage, so talk to your physician to figure out what’s best for you if you suffer from this ailment.

Arthritic Neck Issues and Bone Spurs

Bone spurs (osteophytes) often form where bones meet each other — in your joints. They can also form on the bones of your spine. They are mainly caused by damage associated with osteoarthritis, a condition marked by the degeneration and breakdown of the cartilage between the facet joints in the cervical spine. This is uncommon in patients under the age of 60. Bone spurs may be asymptomatic and can go undetected for years. They don’t always require treatment. But depending on where they are situated, they can affect your health and cause pain. Some patients with bone spurs may experience a dull pain, especially while standing up. In some cases the pain occurs in the shoulders or causes headaches. It can be treated with rest, pain medication and chiropractic therapy.

Trauma, Injury and Whiplash

Neck pain can be caused by whiplash from a car accident or a fall in which one lands on top of the head. Whiplash can also occur from sudden movement or any impact or blow that causes one’s neck to jerk forward or backward, because the sudden force stretches and tears at the neck tendons. Symptoms include pain, a decreased range of motion and tightness in the neck with a feeling of hard or knotted neck muscles; tenderness; headaches at the base of the scull; and pain when rocking your head from side to side or backward and forward. It is recommended that oen suffering from whiplash ice the area to reduce the pain and swelling; speak to a physician about proper medication; apply moist heat to the neck after icing it. Some physicians may recommend the use of a neck brace, as well.

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