Neck Pain

By: Dr. M. Scott White

Neck or Cervical Pain is a common occurrence for almost every living being. In addition to injuries caused by accidents, stress, or other health issues, we are constantly exposing our head and neck to strenuous positions for extended periods of time. The advent of personal computers is a contemporary application of "necessary convenience" that oftentimes causes the body to pay a severe penalty.

The neck is the upper part of your flexible spinal column, better known as your backbone, extending along most of the body. The neck region (cervical spine) contains 7 bones (or vertebrae labeled C1-C7). These bones are separated by intervertebral discs, which permit your backbone free movement and also serve as a shock absorber during our daily activities.

Running the entire length of the back is a contiguous, hollow space known as the spinal canal. Passing through this fluid-enriched area are the spinal cord and nerves, which are protected by 3 layers - the dura, arachnoid, and pia mater. On either side of each vertebral level, two spinal nerves exit via the foramina (small openings). The purpose of these nerves is to allow the skin, tissues, and muscles to provide feeling and movement throughout your body. Although delicate, the spinal cord and nerves receive additional support from powerful muscles and ligaments which adhere to the vertebrae.

Sometimes neck pain is the result of arthritis, disc degeneration, a narrowing of the spinal canal, and (although rarely) cancer or meningitis. When a neck problem is of a serious nature, your primary doctor or a specialist, such as a chiropractor, neurologist, neurosurgeon, or orthopedic surgeon, must be consulted as soon as possible.

In order to get a better understanding of some of the causes of neck pain and the actions a sufferer should take, the following reviews the most common symptoms, diagnoses, and suggested care.

PAIN, NUMBNESS OR WEAKNESS DOWN YOUR SHOULDER, ARMS OR LEGS

This may be a muscle spasm or burner, but it may also be an injury to the spinal cord. This is an URGENT matter, so see your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately.

If your physician determines that you have a muscle spasm or burner issue, you should use over-the counter medicine (e.g., acetaminophen or ibuprofen), to relieve the pain, if recommended by your doctor. Applying moist heat is also usually recommended.

AFTER AN ACCIDENT, THE PAIN COMES ON SLOWLY (OVER A FEW HOURS)

It is very common for muscle aches and spasms to take some time to develop after an injury (from minutes to hours). Medicines, including aspirin, ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory agents, are designed to relieve this type of pain and discomfort. The application of moist heat is also usually recommended.

If the pain gets worse or lasts for several days without any improvement, please consult with your physician.

FEVER, STIFF NECK, VOMITING, AND LIGHT HURTS YOUR EYES

These symptoms may be from a simple viral illness or from meningitis, a more serious infection around the brain.

This is an EMERGENCY situation and you must see your doctor or be taken to the emergency room immediately.

THROBBING PAIN OR NUMBNESS DOWN YOUR SHOULDER OR INTO YOUR ARM

A herniated cervical disc may be the problem. Pain is the result when part of the disc presses against a nerve. However, it may also be from muscle spasm.

The best course is to see your doctor. Use of over-the-counter medicine, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to relieve pain, as well as the application of moist heat to the problem area is usually recommended. If your symptoms appeared suddenly or do not subside, see your physician immediately.

STIFF NECK OR TROUBLE MOVING YOUR NECK WITHOUT PAIN

The pain is probably from muscle spasm, but also may be from rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory joint disease, or fibromyalgia, a chronic condition affecting muscles and tendons.

Consider the use of anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, and apply moist heat to the problem area. If the pain persists or the stiffness gets worse, contact your physician.

PREVIOUS WHIPLASH-TYPE INJURY, OR DAILY PAIN AND/OR STIFFNESS IN YOUR KNEES, HIPS, HANDS, NECK OR OTHER CONNECTIVE AREAS

The source of your pain may be degenerative disc disease, an arthritic-type disorder that affects the bones and cartilage in the neck.

Use of anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, should help relieve the pain. See your physician if the pain or stiffness gets worse or fails to improve.

REMEMBER:

Your physician is the best source for more information, proper diagnosis, and treatment. If you believe your problem is serious in nature, you must contact your doctor immediately.

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