Neck pain, like back pain, is a source of misery for many people. Often, neck pain is temporary and a minor nuisance only, resolving spontaneously after a few days. On other occasions, neck pain is either severe or persistent, and requires a thorough evaluation by a dedicated pain doctor in your area. Severe onset neck pain that is sudden and accompanied by fever or weakness is a medical emergency.
What Are the Different Types of Neck Pain?
The symptoms of neck pain depend on the part of the neck that is injured and the mechanism of injury. The neck consists of several components. The vertebrae – spinal bones – that make up the neck are known as the cervical spine, and can be a source of pain. The spinal cord itself, the bundle of nerves that controls sensation and movement throughout the body runs in a narrow canal protected by the vertebrae. Exiting nerves from the spinal cord pass through narrow gaps between the bones and are subject to injury. The muscles that run alongside the cervical spine and control motion of the neck can be torn, strained or bruised. Finally, other structures deep within the neck such as the esophagus and trachea can be rare causes of neck pain.
Neck pain can be sharp or dull, constant or intermittent, localized to one small area or spread out along the neck and travel to the arms. It can be worse with movement or worse with looking at light. The qualities of neck pain help a neck pain doctor decide the source of the pain, so it’s important to pay attention to exactly how your neck feels.
What are signs of Dangerous Neck Issues?
Neck pain that is accompanied by a fever and is sudden in onset is an emergency. This could be meningitis or encephalitis – dangerous infections of the spinal cord and brain. Sudden onset neck pain that causes weakness in the arms or legs or problems with bowel or bladder function is an emergency as well.
Severe pain of any duration is a serious issue, and a sign that you should see a pain doctor new York or a pain doctor new jersey. Likewise tingling or numbness in the hands or arms is a sign you should get a thorough assessment from a pain doctor. This could mean you have a nerve compression either from a slipped disc or a bony abnormality within the spine.
Any neck pain that lingers after a trauma, such as a car accident or a fall from a height is a sign you should see a neck pain doctor right away.
How Long Does Neck Pain Last?
Generally, neck discomfort is divided into three: acute, subacute and chronic. Acute pain is described as the pain that will persist for less than one month. Subacute is the pain that will last between one month and three months. Chronic neck pain is the kind that will go beyond three months. Neck pain can begin suddenly or can build up over time. It might start as a mild discomfort at the end of the business day or after working out. At first it might be intermittent, going away overnight, but then gradually overtime is lingers and worsens. Common causes of neck pain that builds up gradually include exercise, poor posture at work and poor sleep posture or a bad mattress.
On the other hand neck pain might be sudden in onset and related to a motor vehicle accident or a sports injury. The pain can begin several days after the initial trauma occurs but then progress rapidly and become excrutiating. See a pain doctor right away if you are experiencing pain like this and be prepared to describe your pain in detail. Generally speaking subacute and chronic neck pain is always serious enough to see a pain doctor.
How a Pain Doctor Diagnosis Neck Pain:
- A thorough history: A good pain doctor will listen fully to the story of your neck pain and take a thorough history. A pain doctor will also ask you questions about your other medical conditions and obtain a complete list of medications. Your pain doctor will want to learn all about your pain – how long has it lasted, what makes it worse, what makes it better etc. He or she will ask about your work – do you sit in front of a computer all day? Do you work out and what type of exercise do you do? Did you have any motor vehicle accidents or other injuries?
- A full physical exam: A neck pain doctor will do a full physical exam. He or she will observe your posture including exactly how you hold your neck and shoulders. Neck he or she will gently feel your neck, focusing on your cervical spine and looking for tightness, tenderness, spasms and soreness as well as obvious bony abnormalities or injuries. Your pain doctor will test the full range of motion of your neck, asking you to move your chin up and down then move your head side to side. What makes your neck hurt? If there is concern for a nerve injury, a neck pain doctor will do additional testing including using a reflex hammer to check the nerve function at your biceps, triceps and forearm.
- Imaging: Your neck pain doctor may consider the following imaging to get a good picture of exactly what is causing your discomfort:
- X-ray – This diagnostic test is done by the pain doctor to see the condition of the cervical spine bones and determine whether there are fractures, tumors, dislocation, herniated discs and spinal arthritis and so on.
- MRI scan –Magnetic Resonance Imaging is done to show the condition of your neck’s soft tissues and is preferred in some patients because it doesn’t use any radiation.
- CT-scan – This is an imaging test that uses X-rays together with a computer to make clearer, cross-sectional images of your spinal bones. Even the slightest bone changes can be discovered by the CT-scan.
- EMG – Electromyography is a test that analyzes the nerve activity in your extremities. The point where a nerve is encountering a problem can be revealed via electrodiagnostic testing.
- Bone scan – A neck doctor does this test to show subtle bone fractures, areas affected by bone degeneration and/or cancer.
- Myelogram – This is a very specific test that provides a very clear picture of the spinal canal, neural foramina and discs and is often done together with a CT-scan to check the current condition of nerves, discs and bones.
Why are Common Causes of Chronic Neck Pain?
Chronic neck discomfort causes many people to see out pain management doctors near them without hesitation. Chronic pain tends to crop up from issues within your cervical spine and the discs that rest in between the spinal bones. The main causes of chronic discomfort in the neck include:
- Cervical degenerative disc disease – Degenerative disc disease occurs when discs in the cervical spine area lose their hydration and ability to pad the vertebrae. This is subsequent to wear and tear that results from the normal aging process. Severe cervical degenerative disc disease can irritate spinal nerves in different ways: disc herniation (when a disc is squeezed out of position), nerve compression or pinching, arthritis in a facet joint and so on.
- Herniated disc – If the jelly-like, inside layer of a cervical disc protrudes via a tear in its tougher outer lining, that’s disc herniation. It is usually triggered by a degenerative disc disease due to aging or an injury to a cervical disc. If a herniated disc (protruding or ruptured disc) pinches a nerve, it can be incredibly painful.
- Osteoarthritis – Most pain management doctors come across cervical osteoarthritis when trying to find the cause of neck pain. It occurs when cartilage in a cervical facet joint succumbs to friction. Also called cervical spondylosis, neck osteoarthritis causes facet joints to grind instead of moving smoothly along cartilage cushion. Due to constant friction, inflammation is the likely result and it can trigger growth of bone spurs. These can make a close by nerve to get pinched or compressed, causing a lot of pain.
- Spinal stenosis of the cervical spine –The spinal canal can narrow with age. This narrowing can be due to a protruding disc that pushes into the canal. It can also be because of bone spurs that are pushing into the spinal canal. Spinal stenosis can cause This is when a compressed spinal cord (located within the spinal canal and consists of a network of spinal nerves) begins to show weakness and neurological symptoms like poor coordination in your limbs. See your pain doctor immediately to find out if you have this problem.
- Foraminal stenosis – The holes through which nerve roots exit your spinal canal to the rest of the body are called foramina. If these start to become narrower, irritation of the nerve roots passing through them can result. If that’s the case, you can experience pain that radiates in a certain area that is specific to the nerve being pinched. Only a qualified pain doctor can detect this nerve.
- Cervical radiculopathy – Radiculopathy occurs when a nerve becomes irritated or pinched by a bone spur or a ruptured disc. Radicular pain, therefore, means that an irritated cervical nerve is causig symptoms to radiate along its path. For instance, pain may shift to your shoulder before traveling down your arms and fingers. Hence, your neck doctor should determine the exact nerve being pinched via diagnostic tests and physical examination.
What Type of Doctor to See for Back Pain and Neck Pain?
Most pain management doctors are good at treating any section of your spine, including the cervical spine. A qualified pain management doctor can provide information on all available non-surgical treatment techniques to provide relief for your neck pain. When determining what doctor to see for back pain or neck pain, consider his or her level of education, years of expertise and reputation. l Dr. Michael Nguyen, M.D is a renowned American doctor with excellent education background, unparalleled professional experience and great following across the country. Dr. Nguyen trained at Harvard and won multiple awards during his time at that institution. He has been featured on many TV programs and has written several books. Within his group are several orthopedic surgeons in case your neck pain doesn’t response well to non-surgical treatment – you are already in the right place.