Mind & Body
Straight Talk about Neck Pain
3/1/2019 12:00:00 AM


"However, for some people, neck pain is a chronic problem that severely limits their daily activities,” says Sarah Clevenger, MD, physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist with Imperial Health Center for Orthopaedics.

"Neck pain affects all of us, whether it's the occasional "crick” or something serious like a herniated disc,” says Dr. Clevenger. "In fact, neck pain is one of the most common reasons people see their physician.  Research has shown that the majority of both men and women report having neck pain at some point in their life, and that one in 20 sufferers said their neck pain had led to major disability.”

While everyone may experience neck pain from time to time, most people don’t understand why.  "It’s simple really,” says Dr. Clevenger. "Your neck has a tough job — holding up your head.” She says leaning into your computer, hunching over your workbench, or bending your head to hold your phone against your shoulder just makes its job more difficult.  "Poor posture certainly contributes to neck pain, but the design of the neck makes it vulnerable in the first place. All the interconnected structures that give your neck its incredible range of motion are subject to the wear-and-tear damage of arthritis and overextension injuries like whiplash. When your neck hurts, there are many possible causes.”

Neck pain includes pain occurring anywhere from the bottom of your head to the top of your shoulders. It may spread to the upper back or arms and may cause limited neck and head movement. Most neck pain is caused by activities that result in repeated or prolonged movements of the neck's muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones or joints. This can result in a strain (an overstretched or overused muscle), sprain (injury to a ligament), spasm of the neck muscles, or inflammation of the neck joints. Things like painting a ceiling, sleeping with your neck twisted, slouching, or staying in one position for a long period of time, are all possible causes of neck pain, according to Dr. Clevenger. 

She says neck pain can also be caused by injury, such as in a car accident, a fall, during sports activities, or by another medical condition, such as infection in the neck area, a narrowing of the spinal canal in the neck (cervical spinal stenosis), or arthritis.

Neck pain can range from a "kink" or stiffness to severe, debilitating pain. The pain may spread to your shoulders, upper back, or arms, or it may cause a headache. You may not be able to move or turn your head and neck normally. If there is pressure on a spinal nerve root, you may have pain that shoots down the arm or numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arm.

"If your neck pain is chronic, it may be difficult to continue doing all the things you need to do every day – both at home and at work,” says Dr. Clevenger. "This can lead to the common side effects of chronic pain including fatigue, depression and anxiety.” 
Neck pain is usually diagnosed through a medical history and physical examination. If the pain started after an injury, such as a severe fall or blow to the head, Dr. Clevenger says further testing such as an X-ray, MRI, CT, or other diagnostic tests may be needed.Dr. Clevenger says most minor neck pain caused by everyday activities usually goes away within four to six weeks. These steps can help:





Reducing the pain with ice and NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). 

I
mproving neck movement and flexibility with exercises or physical therapy. 


Using a good pillow when sleeping, one that does not cause excessive flexion.


Avoiding further neck injury by changing activities and body mechanics, such as how you sit or sleep, adjusting the height of your computer, etc. 




Chronic neck pain is first treated the same way as acute neck pain, says Dr. Clevenger.  In some cases, stronger medication may be prescribed. Stress management and relaxation techniques such as massage or yoga may also be recommended. Dr. Clevenger says surgery is rarely required to treat neck pain. It may be considered if neck pain is caused by pressure on the spinal nerve roots, a severe injury that has broken a vertebra in the spine, a tumor, or a condition such as cervical spinal stenosis.
For more information about neck pain diagnosis and treatment, call the Center for Orthopaedics at (337) 721-7236.

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