Neck Pain

Texas Neck Pain Specialists

Neck Pain: What You Need To Know

Neck pain is quite literally a pain in the neck. Not only is pain felt in the neck, back, shoulders, and head, but quality of life is also affected. According to the Mayo Clinic, neck pain is the fourth leading cause of disability. Neck pain is common, affecting 10% to 20% of adults and is more common in women. Also, your chance of developing it increases with age. The good news is that the team of Neck Pain Specialists at Texas Pain Care in Sugar Land, Missouri City, and Houston areas can help remedy neck pain so you can get back to living your life.

What is Neck Pain?

The National Spine Health Foundation states that an estimated 100 million Americans reportedly suffer from neck pain annually. But while neck pain is common, the pain associated with it can vary greatly.

Neck pain, sometimes called cervicalgia, is pain in or around the spine beneath the head. Neck pain can affect your quality of life and interfere with your daily activities if treatment isn’t used. Fortunately, most neck pain isn’t life-threatening and can generally be treated with conservative methods, including medicine, exercise and stress management.

Feelings of neck pain can include:

Other symptoms can include:

But how and why is neck pain so common? To understand more, we must take a look at the anatomy of the neck.

Neck Anatomy

The neck is the bridge that connects the head to the rest of the body. It is located in between the mandible and the clavicle, connecting the head directly to the torso, and contains numerous vital organs and tissues that have essential structure and function for normal physiology. Structures contained within the neck are responsible for, among others, support and connection of the brain and cervical spine, as well as circulatory and lymphatic inflow and outflow from the head. So you can see why pain in the neck doesn’t just stay in the neck.

The neck is also known as the cervical spine, which is the top most portion of the spine. It is considered the most flexible part of the spine, allowing our head to bend, twist, tilt and more, but due to its flexible nature the chances of injury is greater than in other areas of the spine.

The cervical spine consists of seven small vertebrae, as well as nerves, joints, ligaments and muscles. In between each vertebrae are small discs that provide cushion for the vertebrae, as well as minimize impact on the spine overall. The top two of these seven vertebrae are the atlas and axis, and they are different from the bottom five vertebrae because they form joints that support the head and connect the head to the spine. They are also partly responsible for coordination and balance for the entire body.

But, the cervical spine couldn’t move without the ligaments, muscles and nerves in and around the neck. These ligaments and muscles provide strength and mobility, and the nerves in the cervical spine exit the spine to supply the structures of the neck, upper extremities, muscles and skin.

Even though the cervical spine is just one small portion of the entire spinal column, it provides a very important function for the body overall. This is why neck pain can be so debilitating.

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What Causes Neck Pain?

Neck pain has many potential causes. Some could be incident related, and others could include health issues. The level and duration of pain also varies, including acute and chronic. Acute neck pain is pain that generally occurs from a specific event, like an injury, and lasts three months or less. Chronic neck pain that lasts longer than three months and could be due to issues with discs or ligaments, or joint irritation.

Some general causes of neck pain include:

Age: With age comes natural wear and tear to the makeup of our cervical spine. After all, the neck is always working! Pain can be caused by degenerative conditions (such as osteoarthritis) or weakened discs, which can lead to a herniated disc or pinched nerve.

Physical strain: Staring at a computer screen for hours, carrying a heavy backpack or purse, or pushing through one too many difficult workouts can all lead to neck pain. Poor posture, weaker core muscles and heavier body weight can affect the spine’s proper alignment, contributing to neck pain.

Stress: Those who experience mental stress or are part of a stressful work or life environment might find themselves tightening the muscles in their neck on a regular basis. Tightening these muscles when stressed or irritated can lead to stiffness and pain in the neck.

Injury: A very common injury that causes neck pain is whiplash, but other causes could be slip and falls, car accidents, lifting something too heavy, etc. Any injury that damages muscles, ligaments, discs, vertebral joints and nerve roots could lead to pain in the neck.

Health conditions: Growths, such as a tumor, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis and spinal stenosis all can lead to neck pain.

Detailed Causes of Neck Pain

It’s important for both those who suffer from neck pain and the physicians treating neck pain to understand the type of pain, frequency and duration of pain, location of pain, and any additional symptoms of the pain in order to properly diagnose and treat the pain. Below is a detailed look at some of the most common event-related and health-related causes of neck pain.

Strain

Falling asleep in awkward positions, excessive use, physical strain and overuse can all lead to muscle strain. When the muscles in the neck are under strain, they become tense. Constantly tensed muscles can lead to the development of a chronic pain symptom, and constantly overused muscles (think heavy lifting at the gym every day) can lead to myofascial (muscle related) and ligament injuries, which causes local nerve irritation.

Whiplash

If you’ve ever been in a rear-end car crash, there’s a great chance that you’ve experienced whiplash. This well-known cause of neck pain can result in not only immediate pain, but also inflammation, tension, ligament strain and stretching of the soft tissues of the neck. Inflamed and damaged tendons in the neck can lead to continual pain that increases with certain movements.

Degenerative Disc Disease

Disc disease is one of the most common causes for neck pain and one of the most often reasons someone would need surgery. Disc disease could be from trauma, causing acute pain, or it could be more commonly from degeneration, which is a chronic issue. When the discs, which are built to be soft and supportive, start breaking down, they can collapse backward through ligaments and cause irritation to the nerves in the neck and spine. There is also the possibility of spinal cord compression as well, considering the vertebrae now have less support from the discs. This degeneration also progresses with age, or continual trauma.

Neck Arthritis (Cervical Spondylosis)

On top of having to worry about damages to the vertebrae and discs, the neck facet joints are also a cause of neck pain. The cartilage inside the facet joint, which is located between the spine bones, can break down and become inflamed, triggering pain signals in nearby nerve endings. These degenerative changes in the joints and vertebrae of the neck can lead to cervical spondylosis. If trauma isn’t present earlier, neck arthritis usually begins around age 40, and typically worsens as the arthritis progresses.

Nerve Injury/Compression

As you can imagine, there are a host of nerves located in your spinal cord that connect the brain to the rest of the body. When these nerves experience inflammation or compression, due to trauma or medical conditions, it can cause pain or numbness in the head and face, as well as pain, weakness or loss of feeling in the legs or arms.

Spinal Stenosis

Also known as the narrowing of the central spinal canal, which in turn compresses the spinal cord and adjacent nerve roots, spinal stenosis is a frequent cause of neck pain. When cervical spinal stenosis occurs, the shoulders and upper extremities are most affected, with feelings of cramping and shooting pain, as well as numbness.

Osteoporosis

Very common in women who are entering menopause, osteoporosis is the thinning of bones. When density decreases, the chances of injury increases, simply because the bone is not as strong as it once was. Fracture, disc herniation or nerve compression can all lead to neck pain as a result of thin bones.

Cancers and Tumors

Growths that occur near the neck area or in the cervical spine area put pressure on nerves, ligaments, tendons, bones, etc. that can all lead to neck pain. Metastatic tumors (cancer that has spread from other parts of the body) are the most common type of malignant growths on the spine, and include prostate, lung, renal cell and breast carcinomas. Other conditions including lymphoma, myeloma and gastrointestinal carcinoma can also occupy the vertebral column, leading to neck pain.

Other less common causes of neck pain can include infection, disorders and fractures.

When Should I Seek Treatment for Neck Pain?

While most neck pain is acute and will resolve with rest, time and therapeutic options, there is the opportunity when medical attention is a must. It is important to call your doctor when you experience:

If conservative treatment for neck pain does not result in relief, surgery might be the next best option. Patients who might benefit from surgery include those who aren’t enjoying relief from conservative therapy, there is a decrease in function due to persistent pain, there are progressive neurological symptoms in the arms and legs, the patient is having problems balancing or walking, and the patient is in otherwise good health with no additional medical problems.

How is Neck Pain Diagnosed?

By a trained healthcare provider! The team at Texas Pain Care in Sugarland, Missouri City and Houston areas is dedicated to helping their family of patients get out of pain fast. The best way to achieve this goal is to review each patient’s complete medical history and perform a comprehensive exam, as well as asking questions to find out what might have recently changed or occurred that might have caused the pain. Underlying health issues will be addressed and possibly ruled out, but there could be a need for an MRI, CT Scan, bone scan, and/or X-rays to find the root of the issue.

How is Neck Pain Treated?

Simply put, it depends on the cause of the pain. But that’s what your medical professional at Texas Pain Care is here for! The goal is to remedy the pain with the most minimally-invasive options first, and then readdressing as needed. The great news is that there are numerous options for patients who are experiencing acute neck pain, including changing pillows, improving diet and exercise, enjoying acupuncture/massages, electrical nerve stimulation, medications and more. However, there are instances when medical treatment is recommended to best resolve the source of the pain. These include:

Epidural Steroid Injections

These injections are a great option for alleviating some pain syndromes, including degenerative disc disease in the cervical spine. The treatment method involves injecting a steroid into the epidural space (where the tissues and veins are located) of the spinal cord, with the purpose of pinpointing and treating the irritated nerves. The steroid will also spread to other parts of the spine, where it will reduce inflammation and irritation.

The role of the injection is typically to provide sufficient pain relief to allow a return to everyday activities and to make progress in physical therapy. This pain management technique has been used for decades and is considered an integral part of the non-surgical management of neck pain.

Medial Branch Blocks

MBBs, or medial branch blocks, are a minimally-invasive, non-surgical neck pain treatment that is most often used for neck and back pain that is related to arthritis. These blocks, or injections, are effective in reducing the inflammation and irritation in the facet joints of the spine that are causing pain. This treatment can take up to six weeks before pain relief will be noticeable, but can last anywhere from eight months to several years.

Medial Branch Radiofrequency Ablation

When self-care options and conservative treatment don’t remedy neck pain, chronic or severe pain may require more extensive intervention. Medial branch radiofrequency ablation can help find relief for those who are living with neck pain that simply won’t go away. This option is most often a minimally-invasive and preferred treatment for pain from arthritis in the neck.

With this technique, your highly-trained Texan Pain Care physician will use radio waves to destroy the nerve fibers that carry pain signals along your medial branch nerves to block the pain and help you achieve relief. The high-frequency electrical current that is used ablates or “burns” a small area of nerve tissue, which allows for quick relief and long-lasting pain control.

Trigger Point Injection

For patients who are experiencing muscle spasms, trigger point injections is a great treatment option. This procedure involves injecting a local anesthetic, sometimes combined with a steroid medication, into a “trigger point” where your expert Texas Pain Care physician believes is the root of your neck pain, with the goal to relax muscles and relieve pain.

Trigger points may form after acute or repetitive trauma, which causes stress on muscle fibers, leaving them to be stuck in a contracted state. Sometimes you can feel these knots when you rub your muscle.

Spinal Cord Stimulation

Nerve signals are being sent to the brain constantly. When nerves become damaged, whether due to trauma or other medical conditions, they send pain signals to the brain even if an injury is not occurring.

Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is a relatively new technology that has been proven to help manage chronic pain when the cause cannot be removed or the injury cannot be repaired. The technique uses an implanted electrical device under the skin and over the spinal cord, which confuses the spinal cord and pain processing centers in the brain. Painful signals are replaced by tingling electrical signals. A trial is first done to determine if this device will help long term, and if so, a permanent device is implanted.

The device consists of a stimulating wire or “electrode” or connected to a control unit or “generator.” By placing a stimulating electrode over the spinal cord, the pain signal cannot be sent up from the spine to the brain. After a patient has been evaluated and non-surgical treatments have been used, spinal cord stimulation is considered to help manage chronic pain.

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How Do I Prevent Neck Pain?

Unless your neck pain is the result of a medical condition or specific instance of trauma, there are steps you can take to minimize your chances of dealing with neck pain. The goal is to reduce strain and tension in the muscles – and not break any bones! – that could lead to pain in the neck. Some options include:

Practicing good posture: don’t slouch when starting at your computer or phone, adjust your car seat so you’re in a good driving position, and walk and sit with a posture that allows for your spine to be in line

Stay active: make sure you’re taking walking breaks during the working hours to avoid sitting down for eight hours straight, and be sure to exercise safely and within your weight means

Exercise your back muscles: it’s no secret that we generally lose strength as we age, so it’s important to exercise your back muscles to avoid a “hunched over” look, which throws out your spine alignment

Adjust your shoes/pillow: If you are busily walking throughout the day in improper shoes (think high heels or shoes without appropriate soles), change to something more comfortable that provides more support. Same with sleeping. If your pillow is causing you to sleep with your head too high or head too low, considering switching pillows.

At-home remedies are a great way to minimize neck pain as much as you can. If you are doing what you can and still experiencing pain, give the Texas Pain Care team a call. We’re here to help.

Professional Neck Pain Management

Don’t suffer from neck pain alone. The Texas Pain Care specialists are expertly trained to recognize, diagnose and treat all forms of neck pain. Additionally, we’re here to listen. Maybe you’re not sure when the neck pain started, how it happened in the first place, or what you are doing right or wrong as far as at-home solutions are concerned, and that’s okay! Our team of doctors in the Sugarland, Missouri City and Houston areas will ask all the questions, take all the needed diagnostics, and put together a treatment plan to help you get out of pain as quickly as possible.

There are not only the physical symptoms of neck pain, but also the emotional ones as well, as neck pain can be a debilitating life stressor. When possible, the Texas Pain Care team will always suggest therapy options in conjunction with minimally-invasive options, with surgery as a last resort. We will only utilize the best pain management techniques available with the goal to treat your neck pain and hopefully prevent any future neck pain. Please reach out today to schedule your appointment with one of our doctors.

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