Chronic Neck Pain
What causes neck pain?
This type of pain can result from many different causes, including:
- Injury: Because the neck is very mobile, it is more easily injured than some other areas of the body that have more support. Neck injuries typically affect the soft tissues, including muscles, tendons and ligaments. Injuries may be minor, such as a muscle strain resulting from poor posture, or major, such as whiplash or a herniated disc, the protective cushion that sits in between vertebrae in the spine.
- Age-related conditions: As we age, our joints, including the vertebrae in the neck, lose some of their shock-absorbing ability, which can lead to conditions such as arthritis, degenerative disc disease or spinal stenosis, where bone spurs cause the size of the spinal canal to be reduced. These types of conditions can result in painful pinched nerves, and also may make the neck more susceptible to injury.
- Disease and infection: In addition to joint-related conditions, pain also may result from tumors, pain-related conditions such as fibromyalgia, throat infections and bacterial infections such as meningitis.
When pain or stiffness occurs for just a few days or a week and then goes away, it is known as acute pain. However, when this pain lingers for weeks or longer, it is known as chronic pain and should be examined by a neck pain specialist.
What are the symptoms of chronic neck pain?
Symptoms can vary widely based on the person, but may include:
- A dull, aching pain
- Sharp, stabbing pain in one area
- A stiff neck and a loss of range of motion
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- Difficulty swallowing
- Associated pain in the back
If you or a loved one have neck pain and also recently experienced a traumatic injury such as a car accident, are experiencing muscle weakness, have a high fever, or are experiencing numbness or a shooting pain that radiates down the arm, you should seek immediate medical attention.
How do you treat chronic neck pain?
Given that pain can result from a number of different factors, an accurate diagnosis is required to determine the specific cause of the pain. Depending on your individual history and symptoms, diagnostic tests may include X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans or blood tests. Once the cause of the pain has been determined, possible treatments may include:
- Pain medications to control pain or reduce inflammation
- Immobilization of the affected area through a brace or other device
- Steroid injections
- Surgical procedures such as spinal fusion and artificial disc implantation
- Physical therapy
In addition, your neck pain specialist may recommend a treatment regimen that includes rest, exercise, stretching and other self-care measures that you can implement at home.
The Henry Ford Pain Center approach
At the Henry Ford Pain Center, pain treatment begins with a thorough medical history and physical exam. All patients are evaluated by board-certified pain medicine physicians, physician assistants and certified nurse practitioners to identify the cause of their pain. Following initial assessment, we work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan that may include interventional pain procedures, medication therapy, physical therapy, massage and other complementary options.