What are the Symptoms of Neck Pain?
Neck pain is a common discomfort experienced by many and can be identified through various symptoms. Knowing that you have this condition will help with early detection and treatment.
Drop in Sleep Quality
Numbness or Tingling
Limited Mobility of Neck
Persistent Aches and Stiffness
While rest and self-care are touted as the cure for some of these symptoms, we recommend visiting a healthcare professional instead of turning to Do-It-Yourself treatments or simply taking a painkiller and going to bed. This is because these symptoms may be signs of a more serious condition at play.
6 Common Causes of Neck Pain
Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease
This condition involves the gradual breakdown of the intervertebral discs located between the cervical vertebrae (neck bones). As these discs lose their cushioning and hydration over time, they can lead to pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility in the neck.
A herniated disc can occur in the cervical spine when the inner portion of a spinal disc pushes through its outer layer and presses on nearby nerves. This can lead to pain, numbness, and weakness in the neck and potentially down the arm.
Muscle Strain or Whiplash
Muscle strain in the neck can result from overexertion, poor posture, or sudden movements. Whiplash, often caused by rapid back-and-forth movements, can lead to soft tissue injuries and muscle strain in the neck area.
Arthritis can affect the joints between the cervical vertebrae and the facet joints, leading to inflammation, pain, and reduced range of motion in the neck. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are common types that can impact the neck.
Inflammatory conditions like myositis can cause inflammation of the neck muscles, leading to pain and discomfort in the neck area. This may also lead to swelling as well as pain, as well as varying recovery periods depending on severity.
Bone spurs, or osteophytes, can develop on the cervical vertebrae due to degeneration. These bony growths can press on nerves, leading to pain, and may develop as a result of wear and tear on the neck's structures.
Surgical and Non-Surgical Neck Pain Treatment
What are the Non-Surgical Treatments Available for Neck Pain?
Physical therapists design exercise programs to improve neck flexibility, strength, and posture. They may also use techniques such as manual therapy, stretching, and modalities like heat and cold therapy to manage pain and improve mobility.
Cervical collars are sometimes used to provide support to the neck and restrict movement, which can help reduce strain on the neck muscles. However, their prolonged use is generally not recommended as it can lead to muscle weakening and stiffness.
Chiropractic care involves the manipulation of your spine and neck with the aim of relieving discomfort in your neck. It does not rely on medication or surgery but may be done in conjunction with other treatments such as physical therapy.
What are the Surgical Treatments Available for Neck Pain?
Artificial Disc Replacement
This procedure removes a damaged or degenerative spinal disc with an artificial one. If you have a pinched nerve in your neck, this treatment is used to remove the disc that is applying pressure to the affected nerve. It can also reduce the chances of future spinal degenerative diseases along with reducing stress on the spine.
Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF)
ACDF is a common surgical procedure used to treat conditions such as herniated discs, spinal stenosis, and degenerative disc disease in the cervical spine. In ACDF, the damaged disc is removed from the front (anterior) of the neck, and the space is then filled with bone graft material. The adjacent vertebrae are fused together using metal plates, screws, or cages to provide stability.
Cervical Spine Fusion
This is a surgical procedure that fuses two of your vertebrae together into a single piece of bone to stabilise the neck. It is also performed as a treatment for conditions such as severe degenerative disc disease, spinal instability, fractures, and pinched nerves. Additionally, bone grafts, metal screws, plates, and rods may also be used to hold the vertebrae together.
Posterior Cervical Laminoforaminotomy
This procedure is performed from the back (posterior) of the neck and involves removing a portion of the vertebral bone to create more space for nerve roots exiting the spinal cord. It's often used to treat conditions such as herniated discs or bone spurs that are compressing nerve roots. Unlike fusion procedures, laminoforaminotomy aims to decompress nerves while preserving spinal motion.
How Can the Source of Your Neck Pain Be Diagnosed?
Diagnosing the source of neck pain involves a combination of medical history assessment, physical examination, and diagnostic tests.
- Your medical history will be taken.
- Imaging tests such as X-Rays and MRIs will be performed.
- A thorough physical examination is conducted.
- Additional tests such as blood tests may also be carried out.
What is the Anatomy of the Neck?
Understanding the intricacies of neck anatomy is essential for comprehending the origins of neck pain and the factors influencing its development. Let's delve into the anatomy of the neck, exploring its various components in detail.
The neck is divided into 4 distinct compartments, each housing essential structures and serving unique purposes.
The vertebral compartment can be imagined as a shield that surrounds the spinal column. It houses the cervical vertebrae (C1 to C7) which form the backbone of the neck. Each cervical vertebra has specific features and functions related to supporting the skull, enabling head movement, and protecting the spinal cord that runs through the spinal canal within the vertebral column.
Within the visceral compartment lie structures like the thyroid gland, which regulates metabolism, the voice box (larynx), crucial for speech and breathing, and the oesophagus, responsible for food transport to the stomach. Furthermore, this compartment also ensures the functioning of essential internal structures.
Unlike other compartments, the vascular compartment comes in pairs. You can think of it as a highway for blood circulation. It contains blood vessels like the carotid arteries, responsible for delivering oxygen-rich blood to the brain, and the jugular veins, which drain blood from the brain and face. The intricate network of vessels within this compartment ensures proper nourishment and waste removal.
Muscles and Triangles
The neck is also further separated into regions known as triangles. There are two major triangles, known as the anterior and posterior triangles, each containing complex structures that influence the movement and functions of the neck.
This triangular space is bordered by muscles and is home to vital structures like the thyroid gland, hyoid bone, and major blood vessels. Within this triangle, the submandibular and submental regions house salivary glands and lymph nodes, while the carotid sheath contains the carotid artery, internal jugular vein, and vagus nerve. Additionally, the anterior triangle is also where medical professionals often navigate during procedures.
Visualize the posterior triangle as a gateway to the back of the neck. It's bordered by muscles like the trapezius, sternocleidomastoid, and the clavicle bone.. Within this triangle, you'll find structures like the brachial plexus, a network of nerves that control the arm and hand muscles, and the accessory nerve, responsible for shoulder movement. The posterior triangle serves as a pathway for nerves and blood vessels travelling to and from the upper limb.
How Can You Reduce the Risk of Developing Neck Pain?
Practise Proper Posture
Maintaining good posture is paramount in reducing the risk of neck pain. When you spend time frequently hunched over the computer or mobile phone, it can easily affect your posture, leading to further problems down the road. Furthermore, many may think that extended hours of sitting will not affect the neck as much when compared to engaging in physically demanding activities. However, it can lead to slouching which will affect your posture and therefore lead to neck pain.
Don't Ignore Minor Injuries and Accidents
It's simple to brush off minor injuries or scrapes and carry on with our day, especially if we have a busy schedule. But do you know that the 7 vertebrae in our neck can be shifted out of place even due to incidents that may seem minor? If ignored, this misalignment can gradually accumulate, resulting in discomfort, limited mobility, and even chronic pain.
Manage Your Stress Levels
When we are stressed, it doesn't just impact us psychologically but also physically. Imagine your body as a tightly coiled spring, with muscles tightening when stress takes its hold. And this can be a source of discomfort, stiffness, and aching in our necks.
Activities like swimming, walking, or yoga can enhance your posture, strengthen your neck muscles, and reduce the risk of pain. While engaging in these activities, you should also remember to practise proper techniques to avoid straining your neck along with warming up your body before starting.
When Should You Seek Professional Help?
While neck pain and discomfort may be widely believed to be easily solved by rest and painkillers, there are symptoms that indicate a need for immediate medical attention.
- You experience extreme instability in your neck.
- The pain is caused by a traumatic injury.
- The pain is persistent and worsens after a few days.
- Your shoulders and arms feel weak and numb.
- The pain radiates to your arms, shoulders, and back.
Early detection and medical attention are imperative in leading to a positive treatment outcome which can even prevent further worsening of your condition.
Are You or a Loved One Suffering from Neck Pain
You or your loved one doesn’t have to live with neck pain, as there are a variety of treatments available to relieve the discomfort.
Book an appointment with us at Avant Orthopaedics today, and receive a personalised consultation to identify the cause of your pain.