Neck Pain

February 12, 2015 | Symptoms
neck pain

Your neck, or “cervical spine,” is a complex system of nerves, bones, muscles, ligaments, discs and other soft tissue that work together to support your head, protect your spinal cord and facilitate blood flow to the brain. Damage or stress to any of these elements can result in neck pain, weakness or decreased range of motion.

Because the neck has to be incredibly flexible while carrying so much weight — your head weighs about 11 pounds — it really doesn’t take much strain for your neck to start hurting. Here are a few more common causes of neck pain that many of us deal with on a regular basis:

  • Too much “screen time” with mobile devices (“text neck”)
  • Slouching at a desk, looking at the computer for extended periods
  • Reading in your favorite chair or falling asleep on the couch
  • Incorrect sleeping posture elevating the head
  • Repeatedly turning your head back and forth
  • Prolonged periods of stress or anxiety

These everyday activities may not seem like they could cause any real injury to your neck, but, over time, daily activities could add stress and strain to the vertebra and soft tissue in your neck, leading to repetitive stress injury or even degenerative disease.

Sometimes, we can injure our necks and not even realize it. Delayed neck pain is very common with automobile accidents (whiplash), slip and falls and after lifting something too heavy or improperly. These injuries may have symptoms that we assume are minor or signs of “just getting older.” But any of the following could indicate a more serious issue.

Are you experiencing:

  • Stiffness or pain after staying in one position for any length of time
  • Inability to turn your head or bend your neck
  • Numbness or tingling that starts in the neck and radiates into your shoulders or arms
  • Loss of balance or dizziness
  • Loss of flexibility
  • Grinding or popping in your neck (crepitus)
  • Aching, sharp or stabbing pain
  • Pain that starts in the neck and radiates into the shoulders
  • Waking up in pain “for no reason”

While some neck pain will go away on its own, if you have been experiencing increasing pain, or the pain comes and goes, but never quite goes away for good, your neck pain may be a sign of a serious medical issue. To better understand what might be happening, let’s take a closer look at your neck.

Anatomy of the Neck

The cervical spine (neck) connects the skull to the thoracic spine (upper back) through a series of seven vertebrae, C1 through C7, which stack on top of each other to create the upper portion of the spinal column. Each of these vertebra, as well as the nerves, tendons, discs and other connective tissue protect the neck and allow it to function properly.

Neck-Cervical-Anatomy

C1 (Atlas) and C2 (Axis) — These “top” vertebra are the smallest. The Atlas is responsible for about half of the head’s forward and backward motion. The shape of the Axis allows the Atlas vertebrae to rotate around it, allowing for about half the head’s back and forth rotation.

C3 through C6 — Each of these four vertebrae share the same basic size, shape and function: to absorb shock and distribute weight. These vertebrae, plus C7, are also home to the Joints of Luschka, which assist with forward and backward movement of the neck, while holding the joints steady, so they don’t allow too much side to side bending.

C7 —The final cervical vertebrae, C7, connects with the thoracic vertebrae to continue the spinal column. Thanks to the more prominent bony protrusions (spinous process) on this vertebra, this is likely the one you feel when you touch the back of your neck.

Neck-Cervical-Region-Numbered-Large

Each vertebra also has a pair of Facet Joints, which help limit and control range of motion and rotation along the spinal column. Within these joints are Medial Branch Nerves, which send pain signals to the brain.

Common Causes of Neck Pain

Because the Cervical Vertebrae are strong, flexible and built to take strain while remaining very steady, most neck pain is the result of either serious injury or long-term wear and tear. In most cases, minor neck strain or stiffness will abate on its own over time. If you are experiencing minor or infrequent neck pain, here are some suggestions that may help you feel some relief:

  • Rest. Avoid strenuous exercise, but you may want to also avoid sitting or lying in the same position for extended periods.
  • Apply cold and/or heat. Ice should go first, in the first two days, to reduce inflammation. Heat can help increase blood flow, which speeds healing.
  • Stretching or low-impact exercise can loosen tight muscles and tendons to restore range of motion.
  • Massage to relieve tension and release any stiffness that may cause pain
  • Improve your posture. Slouching or leaning can place undue pressure on your spine. Sitting up straight allows the spine to work most efficiently.
  • Limit screen time on mobile devices. We spend so much time looking down at our phones, doctors have identified a new condition called “text neck.”

Causes of more severe neck pain may include falls, auto collisions, sports injuries or hyperextension. Any of these immediate injuries may result in trauma to the connective tissue (sprain, strain or whiplash) or vertebral fracture (broken neck), as well as injuries to the nerves or spinal cord. However, your neck pain may also be the result of degeneration or repetitive stress, indicating one or more of these conditions:

Degenerative Disc Disease

Facet Joint Inflammation

Herniated Disc Disease

Osteoarthritis (Cervical Spondylosis)

Pinched Nerve

Spinal Stenosis

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Diagnosing and Treating Neck Pain

During your initial physical examination, Dr. Skaliy will ask about your personal and family medical history, then complete a physical examination in order to better assess the cause of your neck pain and develop an effective treatment plan.

During the physical examination, be prepared to answer specific questions about your symptoms including:

  • Where it hurts
  • When it hurts
  • How long it hurts
  • What is the level of your pain
  • Does anything make it better or worse
  • Are you currently taking any medication, whether related to the pain or not
  • Any recent injuries or accidents, even if you don’t think it’s related

Diagnostics may also include medical imaging like MRIs, X-rays, or CT scans. The treatment protocol for conditions causing neck pain differ based on the type, severity and location of the pain. Dr. Skaliy specializes in minimally-invasive and nonsurgical solutions for conditions that cause pain. Click on any link below to learn more about:

Epidural Steroid Injection — A mixture of anti-inflammatory corticosteroid and anesthetic is injected into the painful area for temporary pain relief.

Facet Joint Injection — Relieves the pain and inflammation in the Facet Joints of the spine.

Medial Branch Facet Block – Diagnostic and pain treatment injection, uncovers the source of the pain and reduces the pain.

Spinal Cord Stimulation — Minimally-invasive procedure offering relief to patients experiencing chronic pain.

Whatever may be causing your neck pain, don’t put off getting help. Your upper spine has a direct influence on your quality of life, no matter your age, your lifestyle or what you enjoy. Everything you do, now and in the future, will depend on the health of your Cervical Spine. Don’t let pain, injury or disease rob you of the life you want to live.

Learning today what may be causing your pain, could mean finding a solution that helps you defeat pain today and in the future or avoid pain and degenerative disease altogether.

Dr. Skaliy has dedicated his life and his medical practice to helping patients find real healing and long-term solutions to their pain. But the longer you wait, the more extensive those treatments may be. Right now, you can take the first step in banishing neck pain for good. Click here to fill out an appointment form to schedule a consultation with Dr. Skaliy today.

About the Author

Dr. Michael Skaliy

Throughout his career Dr. Michael Skaliy has felt that medicine is a rapidly changing field and he’s continued to stay up to date to bring the latest cutting edge therapies into his practice. Most recently, he introduced stem cell therapy and minimally invasive same day spine surgery, which is done through a small device the size of a pencil.

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