By far, the most common cause of neck discomfort is poor posture. Slumping in a chair or sitting in front of a computer can cause the neck muscles to stretch in positions for sustained periods of time that ultimately result in spasm of the muscles which leads to neck pain. Other common causes of neck pain are trauma from motor vehicle accidents or work-out injuries due to over straining, as well as tension.
Are there different types of neck pain?
Absolutely. Neck pain can come from pure muscle stretch, irritation, and spasm. It can also come from displaced or herniated discs in the cervical spine. These discs are cartilage cushions that sit between the vertebrae in the spine which allow the bones to float over each other without touching. If there is degeneration to the disc over time, the disc can slip out of place, or herniate, and compress on other structures in the spine, including the exiting nerves and the spinal cord itself. When the exiting nerve is affected, this is what is commonly referred to as “pinched nerve” syndrome.
When should I be worried about my neck pain?
For purely muscle spasm or tension types of neck pain, if the symptoms persist for over a month, it should be investigated. If the neck pain is also associated with radiating pain in the arms or numbness in the arms or hands, this may represent a pinched nerve in the neck and should be investigated. Any time there is loss of function or muscle weakness in the arms this should be brought to the attention of your physician immediately – for a more significant compression may be occurring. Lastly, any neck pain that is associated with trouble walking, moving your legs, or controlling bladder or bowel function should be considered an urgency, for there may be a compression on the spinal cord itself.
How is neck pain diagnosed?
Typically, initial investigations are made by your doctor who will listen to your symptoms and examine you. If there are other symptoms with the neck pain, then an image (MRI, X-ray, or CT scan) is ordered to look at the structure of the cervical spine. Many times a special nerve test called a nerve conduction test is ordered of the arms to help better determine the details of the problem.
What are my treatment options?
Once all the information is gathered, medications such as anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxers may be prescribed. Stretching and posture retraining exercises may also be ordered under the guidance of a physical therapist. Ergonomic evaluation and modification of the work space may also occur to assist with appropriate posture maintenance. At Midtown Neurology, we have a physical therapy program that continues to offer exceptional relief for our patients – even for those who have tried and failed many other treatments. We urge you to call and schedule an evaluation.
Midtown Neurology, P.C.
Husham Mishu, MD is a Board Certified Neurologist in Atlanta at Midtown Neurology, P.C.