Modern life is not kind to the human neck. Sitting at a desk for hours at a time, looking at screens and poor posture often lead to pain and soreness. Injuries caused by a car accident might spark acute neck pain caused by whiplash. Regardless of what type of neck pain you are experiencing, you should understand that neck pain can be an indication of a deeper issue. It might also cause other problems like headaches and stiffness. 

What is Neck Pain?

The spine consists of bones (vertebrae) separated by soft cushions (discs). Nerves that travel from the brain to the rest of the body all pass through the spine. When pressure from spinal vertebrae is applied to nerves, pain, numbness, tingling or weakness can occur. 

Pain is identified two different ways: acute and chronic. Most people with back or neck injuries suffer from acute pain, which lasts four to six weeks and can stop without medical treatment. Chronic pain lasts for more than three months and requires medical treatment. 

No matter how sharp, or how long it lasts, neck pain often limits our ability to feel active and productive. The top priority for anyone suffering from back pain is simply to eliminate the pain. 

Neck pain can interfere with daily activities and reduce your quality of life if left untreated. 

Take Neck Pain Seriously

At first, neck pain might just be an annoyance. It can start out as stiffness that can be temporarily eased with rubbing. One day of neck pain is not typically something to worry about. You could have slept wrong. But when a single day turns into days, weeks or months of chronic stiffness, headaches and persistent pain, you may need to start taking it seriously. 

Neck pain can make every day living difficult to bear. And neck pain does not always remain isolated in your neck. Although pain can start in your neck, it can become aching, tingling pain that can shoot through your shoulders, arms and hands. 

Pinched nerves and can cause radiating pain that makes your entire upper body sore, leaving you uncomfortable day after day. If a stiff neck is the result of a condition other than a strain or sprain, oftentimes other symptoms will also be present. In such cases, typically at least one other symptom will develop with or before the stiff, painful neck occurs. 

Below are “red flag” symptoms that could indicate a potentially serious underlying medical condition is causing the stiff neck:

  • Fever, which likely signals an infection is being fought
  • Headache, especially if it is longer in duration or intensity than previous headaches
  • Nausea or vomiting 
  • Fatigue or unexplained drowsiness 
  • Change in mental state, which could include confusion or mood swings
  • Coordination issues, such as dizziness or problems walking or writing
  • Weight loss that is not part of a diet change

Possible Causes of Neck Pain

Many different medical issues and injuries can cause neck pain. Conditions that may cause neck pain include:

  • Age: Degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis (the wearing down of joint cartilage) and spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spaces in the spine) can lead to neck pain as you age.
  • Injury: Whiplash trauma from sudden forced movement of the neck or head can cause pain and soreness that affects the muscles, ligaments, discs, vertebral joints and nerves.
  • Mental stress: Tightening your neck muscles due to tension commonly causes neck pain and stiffness.
  • Strain: Overusing your neck muscles during repetitive actions or strenuous activities can lead to stiffness and pain.
  • Physical conditions: Poor posture, being overweight, weak abdominal muscles can all affect spine posture and contribute to neck pain.
  • Growths: In rare cases, masses including tumors, cysts and bone spurs can cause neck pain.
  • Other health conditions: Meningitis, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer.

Diagnosing Neck Pain

The first step to treating neck pain is determining the cause. Acute neck pain might occur because you slept wrong or had a long day, but chronic or severe pain is often a symptom of another condition. 

Your doctor will diagnose neck pain with a physical exam and medical history. Your doctor will feel and move your neck to locate pain and find motion problems. Doctors also check your muscle strength and reflexes. Your doctor will ask about previous neck injuries that might have caused whiplash or a herniated disc. Your doctor may ask about work or other activities that could affect your neck.

When you arrive at Ventura Orthopaedic facility with neck pain, our orthopedic teams will thoroughly review your medical history and symptoms and may perform a range of physical and laboratory examinations. These tests and examinations will help us gather the most accurate diagnosis so that we can give you the best treatment. 

The most common screenings to pinpoint the source of your pain or associated pain includes the following:

  • X-rays show the alignment of your bones and whether you have a degenerative joint disease or possible tumors.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or Computerized Tomography (CT) Scans can reveal herniated discs or problems with muscles, cartilage, ligaments, tendons or blood vessels.
  • Myelography uses dye to look for problems in the spinal canal.
  • Bone scans detect bone tumors or compression fractures caused by osteoporosis.
  • Electromyography (EMG) assesses nerve or muscle damage

Understanding your pain is the first step in relieving it. Once an accurate diagnosis is reached, your Ventura Orthopedic physician can discuss with you the specifics of your condition and determine a treatment plan that will meet your individual needs.

Treating Neck Pain

Your treatment might vary depending on what kind of neck pain you are experiencing and why. Depending on your symptoms and lifestyle, you might benefit from: 

  • Medicines including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to ease pain and inflammation and muscle relaxants to help the healing process.
  • Physical therapy (exercises to stretch and strengthen muscles and tendons in the neck).
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) reduces pain by disrupting the pain signal with a low-level electrical current applied to the skin near the nerves causing the pain.
  • Traction to relieve pain with the use of inflatable devices.
  • Steroid injections near the nerve roots to help relieve pain and inflammation.
  • Surgery to repair compressed or damaged spinal disks or fuse some vertebrae in the spine.

Relieving Neck Pain at Home

Your doctor or physical therapist can recommend steps you can take at home to relieve neck pain. These may include:

  • Using heat or ice packs.
  • Doing gentle stretches or exercises.
  • Taking over-the-counter medicines to relieve pain and inflammation such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
  • Resting.
  • Temporarily stopping physical activity.

Long-term strategies to reduce neck pain include:

  • Quit smoking. Smoking damages bone structure and slows healing.
  • Lose weight if you are obese.
  • Reduce your stress level.
  • Do exercises that strengthen your neck and shoulder muscles.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Contact your doctor if you have neck pain that interferes with work or other daily activities. 

In rare cases, neck pain can be a sign of a medical emergency. Seek urgent medical care if your neck pain:

  • Develops after having an accident
  • Includes headache, dizziness, nausea, or vomiting
  • Happens with numbness or tingling in the arms, shoulders or legs
  • Stays the same when resting or moving
  • Occurs with weakness in legs or loss of coordination in arms or legs
  • Involves loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Arises along with a stiff neck
  • Occurs with chills, fever or unexplained weight loss
  • Does not respond to over-the-counter medications
  • Does not lessen after one week

How Can I Get Started?

The experienced and dedicated orthopedic surgeons at Ventura Orthopedics are here for you. If you need spinal or back surgery, it may be time to consult a medical professional. The experienced and dedicated orthopedic surgeons at Ventura Orthopedics are here for you. We are committed to helping you through any procedure until optimum health, strength and mobility are restored.

Call us today at 800-698-1280 to schedule an appointment.


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