Many people experience pain in their neck area, also called the cervical spine. In most cases, the pain develops from poor posture that causes strain on the muscles and resolves quickly with at-home care.
Though neck pain rarely develops from a serious medical condition, the underlying cause may lead to chronic neck pain that affects your daily life.
Symptoms of neck pain may include:
- Pain that worsens over time
- Muscle spasms or tightness
- Decrease in range of motion of your head
You may develop neck pain from an acute injury, such as whiplash, following a motor vehicle accident. However, chronic neck pain usually develops from degenerative changes in your spine as you age.
Doctors prescribe pain relief medications such as acetaminophen, anti-inflammatory agents, and muscle relaxants for acute or sudden neck pain. Temporary bed rest or a brace may also be suggested. Usually, patients are encouraged to get up and gradually increase their activities of daily living.
Physical therapy is often prescribed and usually includes stretching exercises to improve flexibility and extension exercises to help maintain the spine’s natural curve. Hot/cold therapy and gentle massage can also be beneficial for neck pain. Additionally, chiropractic care may also be considered at this time.
After acute symptoms subside (usually within two to three weeks), patients are encouraged to begin a daily exercise regimen. This may include low-impact aerobics three times per week as well as daily neck exercises.
If symptoms of neck pain persist despite these non-operative treatments, further diagnostic tests may be necessary. These tests may include an MRI, CT Scan, Myelogram, or possibly Discography. Surgery may be necessary if the surgeon discovers that one or more of the vertebral discs have herniated. A common technique is an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF). This involves an anterior (from the front) approach, removal of the degenerative disc, and then fusion of the adjacent vertebrae, usually with hardware (cages, plate, screws). However, alternative surgical treatments will also be considered, and your surgeon will discuss these with you thoroughly. Types of surgical procedures include Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF), Disc Replacement, and Spinal Decompression.