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What Is Neck Pain?
The neck of a human body is made up of vertebrae, extending from the skull to the upper torso, cervical discs, other bones, muscles, ligaments, etc which support the head and neck region allowing for a range of neck motions.
Any abnormality in either of the above mentioned structures can cause pain or discomfort in the neck.
What Are The Conditions Of Neck That Causes Neck Pain?
Neck pain is an indication of an illness or a serious injury which may happen due to the following reasons:
- Muscle tension and strain: Caused by bad posture during sleep, being in only one position without change for a long period or whiplash (jerking of the neck during exercise)
- Injury: Accidents causing muscle and ligament injuries, fracture in cervical vertebrae or due to whiplash
- Heart attack: Manifesting as a neck pains along with other symptoms such as shortness of breath, vomiting, excessive, sweating, arm pain, jaw pain, nausea, etc
- Meningitis: Inflammation of the thin tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord causing a stiff neck. It can be fatal and warrants immediate attention of the doctor
- Rheumatoid arthritis: Causing swelling and pain in the neck
- Osteoporosis: Brittleness of the bones in the neck region causing fracture
- Fibromyalgia: Muscle pain in the neck and shoulder region
- Spondylosis: Stress in the neck caused by cervical disc degeneration due to aging, resulting in narrowing of space between the vertebrae
- Herniated Cervical disk: Also known as a slipped disk, it occurs when a disk protrudes due to an injury or trauma, adding pressure on the spinal cord or the associated nerve roots
- Spinal stenosis: Long term inflammation due to arthritis or other conditions causes the narrowing of the spinal column subsequently pressurizing the spinal cord and associated nerve roots in the vertebrae
- Spine cancer
- Congenital Abnormalities
How Can The Causes Of Neck Pain Be Diagnosed?
Diagnosis of neck pain, based on the kind of pain experienced by the patient can be done in any one or more of the following methods:
- Blood tests: To detect infections that may cause inflammation in the neck region
- Electromyography (EMG): Performing tests to test the speed of conduction by the nerves in the neck region by insertion of fine needles through skin muscles. It helps to understand the proper functioning of the specific nerves in the region
- X-rays: Used to detect the areas where the spinal cord or any nerve might have been compressed by an anomalous bone or other tissues
- CT scans (Computerized Tomography): Pictures of cross sections of the neck are taken and contrasts are used to highlight the structures in the neck
- MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans: Scanning the soft tissues of the neck and cervical spine to detect bone tumors and bulging discs
- Lumbar Puncture or Spinal Tap: Performed in the lumber region or lower back from where a sample of the cerebrospinal fluid is extracted to be tested form fatal infections such as meningitis, multiple sclerosis and cancerous cells.
What Are The Treatments To Relieve Neck Pain?
Based on the cause of the neck pain the doctor will determine the treatment for neck pain. Mild to normal pains are treated with oral medication as well as small therapies as detailed below:
Physical therapy: A physical therapist can be employed to teach correct postures, alignment and neck strengthening exercises.
Ice and heat therapy: Usage of ice and electrical stimulation to help ease pain and its recurrence.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): Placing of electodes on the skin near the painful areas to pass tiny electrical impulses to relieve pain.
Traction: Employing weights, pulley or air bladders to gently stretch the neck, generally done under expert medical supervision, to help relieve sensation of irritation in the nerve roots.
Short-term immobilization: A soft collar is used to support the neck in order to take off pressure from the other supporting structures of the neck.
Steroid injections: Corticosteroid medications are injected near the nerve roots into the neck muscles or into the small facet joints in the bones of the cervical spine to relieve pain.
In the event of emergencies or when all other therapies and medications fail, surgery is performed on the neck which can be of the following kinds:
Anterior cervical discectomy: This is the most common type of surgery used for relief from nerve pinch wherein the herniated disk causing the pinch is removed via an incision in the front of the neck and replaced through bone graft.
Laminectomy: Used to remove the laminae to reduce pressure on the spinal cord and nerves as well as to treat nerve pinch.
Laminoplasty: Creation of more room in the spinal canal for spinal cord for the treatment of a condition called spinal stenosis.
Cervical spinal fusion: Surgery to join together two vertebrae undergoing mutual friction due to hernia of the disk. A bone graft or prosthetic is used for the purpose.