Neck pain is the worst kind of overachiever. It’s so common that it’s the fourth-leading cause of disability globally. Pain is not always centralized in the neck. It can radiate across your whole upper body, affecting your shoulders, arms and chest and can even cause headaches. Neck pain can be debilitating and may interfere with day-to-day life, including your ability to sleep, feel productive, and enjoy time with friends and family.
Neck pain is most common in people over the age of 50. But beyond good old aging, the causes of neck pain are as varied as the list is long. Speaking of – here’s a list of some of the more common causes of neck pain:
Injury and Accidents:
- Whiplash is a common neck injury sustained when the head is forced to move backward and/or forward beyond the normal range of motion.
- Nerve Compression: Herniated discs are the most common cause of nerve compression and spinal stenosis but bone spurs can also compress nerves.
- Osteoarthritis: Called Spondylosis is the most common form of arthritis. It’s caused by wear and tear and aging, and can create osteophytes (bone spurs) that crowd the spinal canal and compress nerve roots in the neck.
- Other Forms of Arthritis: Many types of arthritis like Rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, and juvenile idiopathic arthritis, can affect the cervical spine.
- Other Disease Processes: Spinal infection, spinal cord compression, tumor, fracture, and other disorders can cause neck pain.
- Extra weight: Extra pounds put undue stress on the spine and cause the neck to bend forward to compensate.
- Stress: If you’re stressed—and who isn’t?—you may be clenching the muscles that move your neck without realizing it, potentially leading to a stiff neck.
- Poor Posture: Prolonged poor posture, excessive smartphone usage can lead to neck pain.
- What are Some Different Types of Neck Pain?
Some people experience only one type, while others experience a combination.
Neuropathic neck pain: Stemming from the nerves or nerve roots in the cervical spine, neuropathic neck pain could result from conditions such as a herniated disc that presses against a nearby nerve.
Mechanical neck pain: This pain stems from the spine and its supporting structures. Typically, mechanical pain is caused by poor posture, neck strain caused by work or physical activities, and even stress.
Central neuropathic pain: Most commonly a result of a stroke, spinal cord injury, or multiple sclerosis.
Other than neck pain itself, you may notice other symptoms that accompany the pain.
- Neck muscle stiffness
- Pain and/or weakness that shoots down the arm
- Loss of neck mobility
- A sensation tingling in the arms
Imaging studies can help us narrow down the cause of your neck pain. An X-ray can reveal narrowing of disc space, fracture, osteophyte formation, and osteoarthritis. An X-ray won’t show soft tissue like muscles, ligaments or intervertebral discs, though; you’ll need an MRI or CT scan for that.
Treatments for neck pain vary, depending on the cause and duration of the neck pain you are experiencing. Many neck pain patients find relief in using one or a combination of these therapies. The most common treatments include:
- Spinal Injection for pain
- Physical therapy
Most patients with neck pain respond well to non-surgical treatments, so cervical spine surgery is seldom needed to treat it
You may need cervical spine surgery if Non-surgical treatment is not helping, your pain is worsening, your spinal cord is being compressed or You’r experience progressive neurological symptoms.
There are two common types of cervical spine surgeries performed to relieve neck pain:
- Decompression: Removing the tissue that is pressing against a nerve structure
- Stabilization: limiting the motion between vertebrae. Spinal fusion (including cervical spinal fusion), involves the surgeon using plates, screws, bones and other materials to limit motion between the vertebrae in order to stabilize the spine.
There are different types of decompression procedures, including:
- Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF)
- Cervical disc replacement
- Transcorporeal Microdecompression (TCMD)