A chronic neck pain is very discomforting because it often makes neck movement a painful affair, which affects your daily life activities. This article will help you to understand this condition’s causes and provide you with suitable guidance for its treatment.
The neck provides adequate support to the head. It is a highly flexible joint that facilitates movement of the neck and head. A chronic neck pain is a dull or a stabbing pain in the neck region that refuses to vanish for a long time. In general, a neck pain that persists for 10 weeks or more is considered as a chronic problem. It is usually found in adults who are above the age of 30 years. Now, there are some people who are at a higher risk of getting this problem. Elderly people often suffer from chronic neck pain because the bones and discs tend to wear out because of aging process. Excessive body weight, sedentary lifestyle, poor posture, etc. are some of the other major risk factors that contribute towards this problem.
The neck structure has bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, intervertebral discs and spinal cord nerves. All these structural components help the neck to carry out its function normally. Any condition that causes continuous irritation or inflammation in them, often leads to chronic neck pain. Some of the key causes are as follows –
Whiplash injury: This is an injury that results from a sudden jerk of the head, back or forth. As a result, the soft tissues of the neck joint like the ligaments and intervertebral discs are badly damaged. It mostly happens during motor vehicle accidents where the vehicle has been hit from the behind. It may also occur due to falling from a height such as from a horseback or bicycles. This causes chronic neck pain and headaches.
Cervical osteoarthritis: This is also known as cervical spondylosis and is mostly found in people who are above the age of 55 years. This results from chronic degeneration of neck structure due to aging. As a result, the vertebral disc loses its natural elastic properties and the ligaments become stiff. This often leads to rupture in the vertebral disc. The damaged disc then bulges out from its position and presses the nearby spinal nerve. Here, chronic neck pain is often accompanied by tingling and numbness, which is felt in the arms and legs because of the nerve compression by the bulging disc.
Cervical foraminal stenosis: In this condition, the neural foramen or the hole, which is the exit point of the spinal nerves, narrows down. This happens when bone spurs, which is a bony overgrowth, are formed in the neural foramen and it exerts pressure on the nerve that passes through the hole. This pain is felt in the neck, shoulders, upper back region and sometimes, in the hands and fingers as well.
Rheumatoid arthritis in neck: This is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks the tissues present in the lining of the neck joint by mistake. This results in pain and swelling in the joint and even the spinal bones may suffer erosion.
Cervical spine cancer: In some rare cases, chronic neck pain is due to growth of cancerous tumor on the cervical spine. The typical characteristic of this kind of neck pain is that it does not subside even after taking pain relieving medicines or massaging of the area.
A thorough diagnosis is a must. Laboratory tests such as X-rays, MRI scan and electrodiagnostic studies are conducted to ascertain the severity of damage in the neck structure. The main aim of the treatment is to reduce the pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are mostly prescribed for pain relief. Along with these medicines, ice application and heat application are two such home treatment methods that can provide relief from the persistent neck pain. Muscle relaxants and corticosteroid injections are given to those patients who have severe neck pain caused by whiplash injury or neck arthritis.
In most cases, doctors advise the patient to keep the neck in immobile state with the help of a soft neck collar. Physical therapy is highly beneficial for almost all chronic neck pain causes. Traction on the neck can minimize the pressure on the cervical nerves. Massage therapy can relieve an arthritic neck pain. Besides, the physical therapist may suggest suitable exercises that stretch and strengthen the neck. Doctors usually try to treat neck pain with all these conservative methods of treatment only. It is only in some serious cases of cervical foraminal stenosis or cervical spine cancer that surgery becomes necessary.
You must note that the chronic neck pain causes develop over a period of time and does not occur suddenly. Therefore, it takes a long time to get resolved completely. Till then, you must have patience and undergo the recommended treatment as per the instructions given by your doctor and/or physical therapist. And, last but not least, during the course of treatment, avoid all such activities that can increase the neck pain.