Neck pain (also commonly known as cervical pain, or simply ‘cervical’) is a common problem, with two-thirds of the population having neck pain at some point in their lives. Neck pain affects about 5% population and is more common in women than men. About one-half of episodes resolve within one year but remaining patients continue to suffer pain and associated disability.
Muscle strains: Overuse and poor posture , such as too many hours hunched over a steering wheel, laptops, mobile phones and other electronic gadgets often triggers muscle strains. Even such minor things as reading in bed or gritting your teeth can strain neck muscles.
Worn Joints: Just like all the other joints in your body, neck joints tend to undergo wear and tear with age, which can cause osteoarthritis in the neck.
Nerve compression: Herniated disks or bone osteophytes (abnormal growth) in the vertebrae of the neck can take up too much space and press on the nerves branching out from the spinal cord.
Injuries: Rear-end automobile collisions often result in whiplash injuries, which occur when the head is jerked backward and then forward, stretching the soft tissues of the neck beyond their limits.
Diseases: Neck pain can sometimes be caused by diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, tuberculosis, meningitis or cancer Neck pain can also come from conditions directly affecting the muscles of the neck, such as fibromyalgia.
• Neck pain is commonly associated with dull aching. Sometimes pain in the neck is worsened with movement of the neck or turning the head. Other symptoms associated with some forms of neck pain include numbness, tingling, tenderness, sharp shooting pain, fullness, difficulty swallowing, pulsations, swishing sounds in the head and dizziness or light-headedness.
• Neck pain can also be associated with headache, facial pain, shoulder pain and arm numbness or tingling (upper extremity paresthesias). These associated symptoms are often a result of nerves getting pinched in the neck. Depending on the condition, sometimes neck pain is accompanied by upper back and/or lower back pain, as is common in inflammation of the spine from ankylosing spondylitis.
In case of injury, one should seek medical advice immediately without any delay.
If there has not been an injury, you should seek medical care when neck pain becomes:
• Continuous and persistent
• Accompanied by pain that radiates down the arms or legs
• Accompanied by headaches, numbness, tingling or weakness
Acute neck pain: Home treatment includes applying heat or ice and using over-the-counter pain relievers. If these modalities don’t show effect, the patient should rush to a pain physician for further detailed evaluation.
Chronic neck pain: If the pain persists or becomes long standing pain then one should not waste any more time and contact a pain physician directly. The treatment options are defined by the exact cause of such a pain. The various options that are available are:
– Physical therapy : Ultrasonic, short wave diathermy, laser and controlled traction. Along with these neck strengthening exercises are performed. No exercises should be performed in acute painful conditions.
– Pharmacotherapy : This includes a combination of nerve medicines, safe pain killers, muscle relaxants and other drugs which are given depending on the exact cause of pain.
– Interventional therapy : If a combination of physical and pharmacotherapy is unable to provide adequate pain relief then we should go for interventional (injection) painmanagement techniques such as cervical epidural and trigger point injections. These techniques are absolutely safe, effective and produce rapid recovery in all age groups provided they are performed by the experts (pain physicians).
– Life style modifications : These are required for prevention of further such events. These include avoiding lifting heavy weights, long uninterrupted work hours in front of laptop, using mobile phones for long periods and use of pillows. Develop good postures while sitting, working, reading, driving etc.
– Surgical options: Surgery is rarely required. There are specific indications for surgery. Presence of pain is not an indication for surgery.