Neck pain is a common medical complaint, and there are a variety of causes and treatments to alleviate symptoms. Though neck pain is often due to a trauma (like whiplash during a car accident), many conditions cause persistent pain and should be treated by a pain management specialist.
Neck pain is often divided into two categories:
- Acute neck pain presents with a sudden onset and lasts less than three months. Some common cases of acute neck pain are caused by injury or muscle strain (such as poor lifting or sleeping in an awkward position).
- Chronic neck pain lasts longer than three months and can have a number of underlying causes – including herniated discs, arthritis, facet joint problems, and spinal stenosis. Chronic neck pain can extend to other parts of the body, causing additional painful symptoms. Many sufferers of chronic neck pain also complain of headaches, pain in the arms and upper extremities, reduced range of motion, loss of coordination, and weakness.
The Structure of the Neck
The neck is an extension of the spine and contains the same complex network of bones, ligaments, tendons, and vertebral discs. The spinal cord extends up the neck to the brain, and the vertebrae of the neck are referred to as the “cervical vertebrae.” These sensitive tissues and the flexibility of the neck in comparison with the back make it especially sensitive to trauma and injury.
Causes of Chronic Neck Pain
- Disc herniation. A herniated (or “slipped”) disc occurs when the inner layer of one of the cushioning discs between the vertebrae becomes exposed. Typically caused by poor lifting or sports injuries, the pain from a slipped disc can be anywhere from mild to very severe.
- Disc degeneration. The intervertebral spinal discs can also go through structural changes as a person ages – potentially leading to osteoarthritis, disc herniations, or spinal stenosis.
- Radiculopathy. If a nerve in the spine becomes compressed, other parts of the body through which that nerve runs can experience pain, numbness, weakness, and tingling. Radiculopathy is especially common in the cervical vertebrae, and patients may experience pain in the arms.
- Spinal stenosis. The spinal canal – which runs the length of the spine up through the neck and contains the spinal cord – can shrink in size, causing pressure on the spinal cord and neck pain. It is normally caused by a breakdown in tissue as a person ages, but herniated discs and bone growth can also cause spinal stenosis.
- Facet arthritis. When the facet joints in between the spinal vertebrae become inflamed or injured, the resulting condition is referred to as facet arthritis. It can cause severe pain and limit mobility of the neck as well as lead to spinal stenosis.
There are a number of different options for neck pain. If conservative treatments like physical therapy, over-the-counter medications, and lifestyle changes are unsuccessful, Elite Pain Management offers a wide range of safe and effective treatment programs. We specialize in:
- Epidural steroid injections. A way to control inflammation and pain in the spine, epidural steroid injections utilize a safe steroid medication injected directly into the epidural space (the space surrounding the spinal cord and nerves). They can be used to treat spinal stenosis, disc herniations, joint cysts, and spondylolisthesis (or “slipped vertebrae”).
- Facet joint injections. For patients with facet joint problems like arthritis or injury, steroid facet joint injections can alleviate neck pain and improve mobility.
- Radiofrequency ablation. Also known as rhizotomy, this procedure uses heat to disable sensitive nerves in the spine. The procedure is minimally invasive and is often used to treat degenerative disc disease and facet joint problems.
- Medial branch nerve blocks. The medial branch nerves form a network branching out from the facet joints. If a pain management specialist is unable to perform facet joint injections due to arthritis or spinal problems, a medial branch nerve block is an excellent long-term option.