Wondering If You Should Visit A Neck Pain Doctor Nearby? Learn More About Treatment
Neck pain is usually in the spine's cervical region — in other words, your neck. Pain in this area will affect your ability to move your head, hear and see in all directions. It can radiate down to other parts of the body, too, like your arm and fingers, or cause numbness in your shoulders.
For some, chronic pain in this area is debilitating. Almost 50 percent of people that have neck pain at some point in their life continue to experience discomfort. Understanding the various conditions that can affect the cervical spine will help you know when you need to see a spine doctor.
About the Cervical Spine
The cervical spine is a complex but well-designed system of bone, nerve, and supportive tissue such as muscle and ligaments. Although well-engineered, it can be delicate.
It consists of seven bones stacked together to create the structure the connects your head to your body. Inside those seven bony pieces are nerves that send messages directly to the brain. Small holes in the cervical spine allow veins and arteries to facilitate blood flow to the brain, as well. Needless to say, it’s an important part of your body, and injury or disease there can be serious.
Movements Associated With the Cervical Spine
The neck represents one of the most mobile areas of the body. It is capable of a variety of movement, including:
- Flexion — It can bend forward until the chin touches the chest.
- Extension — This movement allows you to look upward toward the sky.
- Rotation — Rotation allows you to move your head from side to side.
- Lateral flexion — This movement touches each ear to its corresponding shoulder.
The extensive movement of the neck is one of the reasons it is so prone to pain and injury.
Neck Pain Causes
Pain in the neck is the fourth leading cause of disability in the U.S. Some neck pain causes are easy to resolve with things like neck stretches, but others are more stubborn.
Neck pain may simply be a matter of strained muscles, especially for people that work at a desk all day. Cervical strains and sprains can cause muscle tightness or spasms that lead to neck pain. Some simple neck pain stretches can help strengthen the muscles and reduce the risk of repetitive injuries. The spine doctor can provide you with a list of exercises that will strengthen the neck muscles and relieve mild pain.
Conditions That Affect the Cervical Spine
Sometimes neck pain causes are more serious. Consider some common cervical spine conditions that are more concerning and require a trip to see the spine doctor.
Cervical Degenerative Disc
A cervical degenerative disc occurs when years of lifting, turning, and twisting that neck take their toll. Discs are cushions that sit between all vertebrae. They work as shock absorbers, but over time, they can become worn. The space between the vertebrae narrows, as a result, pinching down on the nerves. It is one of the most common neck pain causes.
Cervical Disc Herniation
In some cases, the disc may break open or bulge out. This is what’s called a herniated or slipped disc. It takes time for a cervical disc to degenerate enough to cause neck pain. Herniated discs can happen quickly, though, especially after an injury or trauma to the neck.
With cervical stenosis, the canal the runs through the center of the vertebrae is too small for the spinal cord and other nerves. This can be a genetic malformation of the bone. It can also happen due to disease or trauma. It can be the result of a herniated disc, as well. Age is the biggest risk factor, though. Stenosis typically affects people over the age of 50.
Diagnosing Neck Pain
You should contact the doctor if your pain is severe, persistent, or recurring. When you see the spine doctor, the first step is to determine the neck pain causes. That will start with complete medical history. The doctor will want to get an understanding of your lifestyle and any past injuries that might affect the current health of your cervical spine. Family history will be important, too. Some conditions tend to run in families.
Next comes the physical exam. The spine doctor will watch you walk, stand, and move while looking for anything unusual. Palpating the cervical spine allows them to feel if anything is out of place, such as a disc. It may be possible to feel growths or malformations of the spine, as well.
Finally, the doctor will likely do some clinical and imaging tests to get a closer look at your neck health. Some tests will be done in the office, such as the slump test. This information will allow the spine doctor to make a diagnosis and create a care plan based on your unique needs.
Treatment for Neck Pain
The exact treatment of the neck pain will depend on the cause. It may be a combination of neck pain stretches and exercises along with medication and, if necessary, surgical repair. Neck pain stretches improve movement. Some examples of stretches include:
- Neck rotation
- Shoulder rolls
- Flexion and extensions
- Side bending
These neck stretches work to strengthen the muscles and other tissue that support the cervical spine. When combined with heat and cold therapy and over-the-counter pain relievers, neck pain stretches may be all you need to heal.
The spine doctor may recommend other treatments such as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), which focuses tiny electrical impulses on painful areas. Short-term immobilization with a soft collar can support your neck and give the structures time to heal.
In more severe cases, the treatment may include steroid injections or surgery to relieve compression on nerves that could be the root of the pain.
A combination of treatment, home exercises, and lifestyle changes can make all the difference for those suffering from neck pain. It takes a visit to the spine doctor to know what is the right combination, though.
If you are experiencing neck pain, visit our spine doctors in Massachusetts. Our experts are ready to help you properly diagnose your neck pain and offer sensible treatment option to help alleviate the pain. Fill out a contact form below or give us a call today for more information.