Neck is made up of bony vertebrae, ligaments and muscles that support our head and allow its motion. Any abnormalities, inflammation, or injury to these structures can cause neck pain or stiffness. It can be occasional due to poor posture or overuse of neck. Although in most of the cases, it is not a serious problem and is relieved in few days but it can be an indication of a serious injury or illness that may require immediate care.
Causes of Neck Pain
Pain in neck is a common problem and may be caused due to any of the following reasons:
- Muscle strain due to overuse of neck
- Abnormalities in the bone or joints of neck
- Nerve compression due to herniated discs or bone spurs
- Wear and tear of neck due to aging
- Poor posture
- Degenerative diseases
Signs and symptoms of Neck Pain
- Pain that aggravates or gets worse after keeping head in same position for long periods, such driving or working at a computer
- Pain radiating to shoulder or back
- Muscle stiffness, tightness and spasms
- Decreased ability to move head
- Frequent and severe headache
- Heaviness in head
Diagnosis of Neck pain
The diagnosis of neck pain requires thorough physical examination of the patient and the detailed history of the disease. In addition to this, following diagnostic tests are performed to confirm the cause of the pain and the treatment required:
- X-rays of the neck
- CT (computerized tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan
- Bone scan
- Electromyography or EMG
- Blood test
Treatments for neck pain
Most of the neck pain cases can be resolved with rest, change in lifestyle or OTC (over-the-counter, no prescription required) painkillers. If these do not help, following treatment options may be required depending upon the cause and severity of the pain:
- Medication – If PTC painkillers do not help then a prescription of NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) or codeine or hydrocodone (narcotics) or tricyclic antidepressants may be required for short periods under the close monitoring by the doctor.
- Physical Therapy (Physiotherapy) – This includes application of heat, ice, ultrasound and electrical stimulation and other muscle-relaxing techniques to alleviate pain.
- TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) – It involves delivery of small electric pulses into the body through electrodes that are placed on the skin. This encourages the body to produce endorphins, and may possibly block pain signals returning to the brain.
- Surgery - Surgery is rarely required for neck pain but may be the only option to give relief to the patient after all the conservative management methods fail.