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Neck Pain

The first 7 vertebral bones on the spinal column form the cervical spine and are in the neck region. The neck bears the weight of the head, allows significant amount of movement, and is also less protected than other parts of the spine. All these factors make the neck more susceptible to injury or other painful disorders. Common neck pain may occur from muscle strain or tension in everyday activities including poor posture, prolonged use of a computer and sleeping in an uncomfortable position.

The most common cause of neck pain is injury to the soft tissues (muscles, ligaments, or nerves) or prolonged wear and tear. Traumatic accidents or falls and contact sports can cause severe neck injuries causing pain in the neck. Neck pain can also come from infections, tumors or congenital abnormalities of the vertebrae.  Common conditions producing neck pain include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis: It is an auto-immune disease in which the body's immune system attacks healthy joints, tissues and organs. The condition occurs most often in the upper neck area causing inflammation of the lining (or synovium) of joints resulting in neck pain, stiffness, swelling and loss of function.
  • Cervical disc herniation: Disc herniation is the bulging or rupture of the soft fibrous tissue, discs, cushioning the vertebrae. Cervical disc herniation refers to herniation of discs in cervical spine region or neck region. Because of this the soft central portion called nucleus pulposus bulges out through the tear in the capsule. The condition can be caused by the normal ageing or by traumatic injury to the spine. The condition results in painful, burning, tingling or numbing sensations in the neck.
  • Cervical Spondylosis: Cervical spondylosis refers to abnormal degeneration of the cartilage and bones in the neck region.  The condition results in neck pain radiating to arms or shoulder and neck stiffness that gets worse over time.
  • Cervical Stenosis: Cervical stenosis refers to narrowing of the spinal canal that protects the spinal cord and its branching nerves. The condition causes neck pain radiating to arms and hands.
  • Degenerative disc disease: Degenerative disc disease refers to gradual deterioration of the disc between the vertebrae and is caused due to ageing. As people age, intervertebral discs lose their flexibility, elasticity and shock absorbing characteristics, resulting in neck pain. 

Diagnosis of neck pain is made with physical examination and other imaging techniques including electromyography (EMG), X-ray, MRI scan, CT scan, blood tests and bone density assessment.

Treatment options include rest, ice application, elevation of the injured area, using a soft neck collar and neck immobilization using a splint, cast, or sling. Medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs, analgesics and muscle relaxants may be prescribed to reduce the pain and inflammation. Certain stretching and strengthening exercises may be recommended to strengthen the neck muscles.

Surgical treatment by anterior cervical discectomy with spinal fusion is typically recommended only after non-surgical treatment methods fail to relieve the pain. An anterior cervical discectomy is a surgical procedure performed to remove a herniated or degenerative disc in the cervical (neck) spine. Spinal fusion may be performed to provide stability to the spine.

The following steps may help you prevent or improve your neck pain:

  • Practice relaxation exercises to prevent undesirable stress and tension to the neck muscles
  • Perform stretching exercises for your neck before and after exercise
  • Keep good posture if you work at a computer and adjust the monitor at your eye level.  Stretch your neck frequently.
  • If you use the telephone a lot, use a headset
  • Use a pillow that keeps your neck straight
  • Wear seat belts and use bike helmets to reduce injuries

CERVICAL DEGENERATIVE DISORDERS

Cervical refers to the 7 vertebrae of the neck. The cervical spine consists of other anatomic structures including muscles, bones, ligaments and joints. Normally, the cervical spine permits quite a range of flexibility and motion. However, it is susceptible to physical forces during traumatic injuries. This high range of motion encourages changes associated with spinal wear and tear or age.

Some of the cervical degenerative disorders include:

Degenerative disc disease: Degenerative disc disease refers to gradual deterioration of the disc between the vertebrae and is caused due to ageing. As people age, intervertebral discs lose their flexibility, elasticity and shock absorbing characteristics. Depending on the location of degenerative disc, it could cause back pain, radiating leg pain, neck pain and radiating arm pain.

Compression of the spinal cord: Degenerative disc disease may cause narrowing of the spaces between the vertebral bodies, which indicate that the disc has become very thin or has collapsed. Thus, the space available for the nerve roots starts to shrink. The nerve roots leave the spinal canal through a bony tunnel called the neural foramen and it is at the neural foramen that the nerve roots may get compressed. Compression of the spinal cord causes pain, difficulties with mobility, bladder control problems, weakness and fatigue.

Cervical Stenosis: Cervical stenosis refers to narrowing of the spinal canal that protects the spinal cord and its branching nerves. The condition causes neck pain radiating to arms and hands, numbness or weakness in the legs. This condition causes cervical myelopathy and cervical radiculopathy. The abnormal pressure placed on the spinal cord causes damage and results in spinal cord dysfunction. This condition is known as myelopathy. Cervical radiculopathy occurs when the nerve root connecting the spinal cord is injured or pinched as they exit the spinal canal. Myeloradiculopathy occurs when there is damage to the spinal cord and nerve roots.

Cervical Disc Herniation: A cervical disc herniation is a condition affecting the neck, in which the outer fibers surrounding the disc (annulus fibrosis) may cause tears or cracks. Because of this, the soft central portion called nucleus pulposus bulges out through the tear in the capsule. The condition can be caused by the normal ageing or by traumatic injury to the spine. The condition results in painful burning, tingling or numbing sensations in the neck, shoulders, arms and hands.

Cervical Spondylosis: Cervical spondylosis refers to a disorder in which there is abnormal degeneration of the cartilage and bones of the neck.  The condition results in neck pain radiating to arms or shoulder and neck stiffness that gets worse over time.

Rheumatoid Arthritis: It is an auto-immune disease in which the body's immune system attacks healthy joints, tissues and organs. The condition occurs most often in women of childbearing age, causing inflammation of the lining (or synovium) of joints resulting in pain, stiffness, swelling and loss of function in the joints.

Diagnosis:

Diagnosis of cervical spine disorders is made with physical examination and other imaging techniques including electromyography (EMG), X-ray, MRI scan, CT scan, blood tests and bone density assessment.

Treatment:

Conservative Treatment

MedicationsAnti-inflammatory drugs, analgesics and muscle relaxants may be prescribed to reduce the pain and inflammation.

Physical Therapy: A wide range of exercises for flexibility, toning, strengthening, stability and restoration of range of motion may be recommended.

Surgical Treatment

An anterior cervical discectomy with spinal fusion is typically recommended only after non-surgical treatment methods fail.

The Spine Clinic of Oklahoma City
9800 Broadway Ext
Oklahoma City, OK 73114
Dr. Braly: Suite 203
Dr. Beacham: Suite 201