What causes neck pain?

Most people will have a minor neck problem at one time or another. Our body movements usually do not cause problems, but symptoms can develop from everyday wear and tear, overuse, or injury. Neck problems and injuries most commonly occur during sports and recreational activities, work-related tasks, or projects around the home; it can occur not only in your neck, but anywhere in the area of your neck, from the base of your skull into your shoulders, and can spread down your arms or upper back.

A neck injury can bring on sudden and severe pain and cause bruising and swelling to develop soon after. If the ligaments or muscles in the neck are injured, the spine may be fractured or dislocated, causing a spinal cord injury that may lead to permanent paralysis. Or it may tear or rupture a disc, causing herniation.

What are the symptoms?

Commonly you may feel a severe pain in your neck that prevents you from moving or turning your head or neck easily. The pain may spread to your shoulders, upper back, or arms, and if there is pressure on a spinal nerve the pain might shoot down your arm. This may be accompanied by weakness, numbness, or tingling in your arm. Headaches, dizziness, and feeling sick to your stomach may accompany a more serious neck injury as well.

Neck pain is almost as common as lower back pain, especially in people older than 50, but, like lower back pain, it should be promptly diagnosed, treated, and not ignored.

How is neck pain diagnosed?

Dr. Alex will ask questions about your symptoms and do a physical exam. He may also ask about any injuries, illnesses, or activities that may be causing your neck pain and, depending on your answers, may do an X-ray. During the physical exam, Dr. Alex will check how well you can move your neck. He will also look for tenderness or numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arms or hands.

How is it treated?

The type of treatment you need will depend on whether your neck pain is caused by commonplace activities, an injury, or another medical condition. If you’ve tried treatments such as anti-inflammatory medicine, ice packs, physical therapy, exercise, or changing how you sit or sleep for reducing or eliminating your neck pain and these treatments have not alleviated your pain, Dr. Alex may perform alternative treatments. These treatments could include acupuncture, gentle manipulation, ultrasound, electrical stimulationmassage, or any combination therein – whichever he believes are best suited to reduce or eliminate your particular pain.

If your pain doesn’t improve after a specific number of treatments, Dr. Alex may refer you to have an MRI or a CT scan done to check the neck bones, spinal discs, spinal nerve roots, and spinal cord. These imaging tests could indicate if your pain is caused by pressure on the spinal nerve roots, a narrowing of the spinal canal or a tumor. And, although surgery is rarely performed to treat neck pain per se, the types of medical conditions described in the previous sentence might be an indication that surgery should be considered.