Neck Pain Relief
Do you suffer from chronic or acute backache, neck pain, or sciatica? You’re not alone. These pain conditions are of the most common reasons for doctor visits and missed work, with about 80 percent of Americans dealing with this problem at some point in their lives. Chronic pain conditions can be the most difficult and costly to treat. While managing pain that originates in the back can be a challenge, there are many treatment options available to you. The Pain Center is here to offer you guidance, support, and a range of treatments.
Pain issues with the spine, such as in the lower, middle, or upper back and neck, are common and can interfere with your daily activities. Injury to the back, degenerative disc disease, arthritis, obesity, and muscle strain can all cause pain. The upper back (neck or cervical spine), middle back (thoracic spine), or lower back (lumbar or sacral spine areas) can be affected, and pain can range from mild to severe.
Causes of Neck Pain
The first step in treating pain is to understand the underlying cause.
What causes neck problems? Minor injury to the muscles, tendons, or ligaments in the neck are a common cause of pain and typically heal on their own. For example, sleeping in a bad position can cause neck pain that usually self-resolves over a short period of time. Injury, poor posture, and repetitive motions can also cause neck pain.
Other causes of pain stem from within the spine or spinal discs, for example:
- Cervical herniated disc
- Bone spur causing nerve irritation
- Arthritis in the neck
- Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal due to growth or bulging disc)
- Degenerative disc disease
Your doctor or pain specialist can help you understand the source of your pain and any contributing factors.
Neck Pain Symptoms and Diagnosis
Neck problems can cause sensations that range from tingling or a dull ache to sudden or sharp pain that prohibits your normal activity. Pain can centers in the neck, or can radiate out to other areas such as the arms. Pain can be minor or severe, and can last a short period and self-correct, or can be chronic (long-term). Neck issues can happen suddenly through an injury such as whiplash, or can develop slowly over time.
Risk factors for developing neck pain include smoking, which can contribute to degeneration of the discs, obesity and poor posture. Labor occupations and unhealthy amounts of sleep can also contribute to pain in the neck area. Other risk factors are trauma (injury), and age-related changes to the spine such as arthritis. Symptoms may include (but are not limited to):
- Difficulty turning the head
- Neck spine pain, pain in the neck, severe neck ache
- Radiating pain to other areas of the body
- Tingling in the arms or fingers
- Numbness in the upper limbs
- Shooting pain in the neck
- Pain in the center back of neck
Specialties that can help address cervical spine pain include general and family medicine, internal medicine, orthopedics, pain management, physical therapists, and chiropractors, among other groups.
To diagnose the source of your pain, your doctor or pain management specialist will ask you questions about your health and history and do a physical examination. Other tests that can help diagnose the source of your pain include X-rays, MRI scan, CT scan and blood tests.
How to Treat Neck Pain
Looking for ways to get neck pain relief? There are many treatment options and a range of therapeutic approaches.
The best pain relief method for you will depend on your individual situation, such as the cause and severity of your pain. Treatments such as ice, rest, muscle relaxants and over-the counter pain medications may give you some relief. Prescription anti-inflammatory pain medications (NSAIDS) may be prescribed if necessary. Sometimes additional therapy is required, such as physical therapy, steroid injections, and/or nerve pain medications.
Neck pain exercises and stretching
Exercises and stretching can help strengthen the cervical spine and surrounding muscles. Sometimes steroid injections can provide enough pain relief to allow you to do exercises that strengthen your muscles and alleviate pain longer-term.
The Pain Center takes a conservative approach with medication management. We try to limit medications to help avoid issues with dependence. There are situations where medications can be appropriate. In these cases, medicines can be considered such as acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as naproxen and ibuprofen, opiate pain relievers, muscle relaxants and antidepressants.
Epidural steroid injections
Steroid injections can provide pain relief for a short-term period of time (typically three to four months). Steroid injections can be combined with other therapies for maximum benefit, such as with physical therapy and exercise. Epidural steroid injections do not work for all patients.
Therapeutic nerve blocks contain local pain medications that can control acute pain.
Radiofrequency Ablation (Rhizotomy)
A minimally invasive procedure performed under fluoroscopy (live x-ray) that destroys the nerve fibers in the back that carry pain signals. This procedure can be performed in the neck, middle or lower back.
Spinal Cord Stimulation
Implantable devices for pain management can be considered if other therapies are not effective. These implantable devices deliver mild electrical pulses to block the transmission of pain.
Surgery is an option for neck pain but is typically not required. Nonsurgical treatment options should be used first to try to manage pain.
In a more natural approach, or in combination with medical procedures, chiropractic care, acupuncture, and massage therapy can help with severe nerve pain for some patients.
When Further Neck Pain Treatment is Required
Any further treatments required are based on the nature and severity of the underlying problem. If there is something that can be addressed by a surgeon, we will refer you to a specialist.
Some additional interventions can be performed at The Pain Center. For example, we sometimes see patients who have already had a discectomy, laminectomy, or fusion. If a patient does not respond to minimally invasive treatments, we consider aggressive.
Commonly Asked Questions about Neck Pain
How can you get rid of neck pain?
Non-surgical options are appropriate for most patients. Only a small percentage of patients are candidates for surgery. Some early options include physical therapy and rehabilitation, which can reduce pain for patients. Chiropractic treatment can be used as part of a multidisciplinary care model. Other conservative therapies include acupuncture, exercise therapy, manipulation, postural approaches, and cognitive behavioral therapy.
What is neck pain?
If you have pain in your neck, or tingling that radiates to your upper limbs, you may be suffering from neck pain. If it has been bothering you for over six weeks, if its getting worse, if the pain followed a physical trauma of some sort, or if you have other concerning symptoms such as a bad headache, fever, or weight loss, it’s time to consult a doctor.
How to treat neck pain and stiffness?
Most people experience improvement within a few weeks or months. Surgery is rarely necessary.
Is neck pain ever severe?
Sometimes the symptoms of neck pain can be severe enough to require immediate medical attention. For example, if your pain began following a traumatic injury, if you have unexplained dizziness or nausea, see your doctor right away. In addition, if your symptoms worsen, or if you have symptoms that affect your arms such as poor hand coordination, weakness, or numbness, get medical care.
It is important to accurately diagnose the underlying cause of your pain so you can be properly treated.
Is surgery ever required to treat neck nerve pain?
Self-care and nonsurgical treatments are usually sufficient to treat nerve pain. In rare cases, for severe pain or dysfunction, surgery can be considered and there are surgery options available to appropriate patients.
Can exercise help with pain symptoms?
If you are coping with pain in or stemming from your neck, regular exercise can be helpful in improving pain symptoms. Consult with your doctor or pain specialist to learn what exercises are appropriate for your individual condition.
What causes nerve pain?
Neck pain can be a symptom of a range of underlying physical conditions in which the nerves in the neck are compressed and/or irritated. Common causes include lumbar herniated disc and spinal stenosis.
How long does neck pain last?
Neck pain can last short or long periods, depending upon the underlying cause. Short-term episodes can last for several weeks. Longer-term or chronic pain is often associated with degeneration of the spine. More invasive interventions may be required for severe and chronic pain.