Everyone has at one time or another experienced neck pain of some sort and degree of severity. Maybe you wake up with a “crick” in your neck after sleeping on it wrong, and every time you try to turn your head, you get a stabbing pain in your neck. Most of the time this occurs because the muscles in the neck have gone into spasm, which is a minor condition that will resolve itself and will usually go away within a few days.
However, in some cases, (especially after some sort of painful trauma such as an athletic injury, a car accident, or some other injury to the area), neck pain may be indicative of a more serious problem that needs evaluation and treatment from a doctor or an orthopedic surgeon.
Primary Causes of Neck Pain
Strain - the most common cause of neck pain is some type of strain of the neck muscles. This is commonly from sleeping wrong but can also come from some type of over-exertion. It can also occur from a competitive sports strain and even sitting in front of the computer for too long can cause muscle strain. When the muscle is strained it goes into spasm, an uncontrolled, very strong contraction of the muscle which causes pain because it puts pressure on the nerve endings around the muscle.
Injury - the neck is less protected than the rest of the spine, so in the event of automobile accidents, athletic injury, falls, etc., these can all easily result in neck injury. Most of these neck injuries are to the muscles and ligaments, a soft-tissue injury. In cases of severe injury with a fracture or a dislocation of the result could be spinal cord damage and paralysis.
Degenerative disease - there are a number of degenerative diseases that can cause neck pain such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Cervical disc disease can also cause neck pain. In cervical disc degeneration, the discs between the vertebrae degenerate and the spaces between them vertebrae narrow, adding stress and causing pain.
How Neck Pain Diagnosed
Determining the source of the pain is essential to correct and successful treatment and rehabilitation. The doctor will take a complete history of the difficulties you are having with your neck. Next, your doctor will perform a physical examination including an evaluation of neck motion, level of pain and the function of the nerves and muscles in your arms and legs. X-rays will typically be taken to give your doctor a closer look at the bones in the neck. In most cases this examination is enough to determine the cause of the pain and to prescribe effective treatment.
Patients may need other tests such as:
- MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) - a non-X-ray study allows an evaluation of the spinal cord and nerve roots
- CT (Computed Tomography) Scan – a specialized X-ray which allows careful examination of the bone and spinal canal
- Myelogram - This specific X-ray examines the spinal canal and nerve roots after injection of dye or contrast material into the spinal canal
- EMG (Electromyogram) - evaluates nerve and muscle function
When to call the doctor
- The pain does not begin to subside in a week
- The pain is severe
- There is also fever and headache, or the neck is stiff
- The pain travels down one or both arms
- There is a numbness or tingling in the arms
Medfast Urgent Care Centers offer fast, professional medical treatment for neck pain. Our average wait time to see patients is less than an hour, compared to Hospital Emergency Rooms, which can sometimes take longer than three to four hours and are much more expensive. We are professionally staffed with highly-skilled, licensed doctors and nurses, and fully equipped to handle testing and treatment for neck pain.