FAQs on Neck Pain and Treatment Options

Neck pain is a common occurrence, improving within a few days for most individuals. Acute strain of the neck muscles and ligaments can occur after sleeping in an awkward position. The neck is part of the long flexible spinal column. The neck region (cervical spine) consists of 7 vertebrae, which are separated from each other by cushioning discs that act as shock absorbers.

The spinal canal is made of an arch of bone that forms from the hollow space that runs the entire length of the back. Nerves and the spinal cord pass through this canal. Spinal nerves, skin, tissues, muscles, and ligaments all make up the neck region, and problems with any of these structures can result in neck pain.

Is neck pain common?

According to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, 7% of men and 9.4%of women have neck pain at some time during the year. However, one study of people aged 18 to 67 years found a prevalence of neck pain of 14%.

What are the common causes of neck pain?

Neck pain can be caused from many conditions, such as narrowing of the spinal canal, disc degeneration, spinal arthritis, or in rare cases meningitis or cancer. Additionally, any injury can result in disc herniation, whiplash, vertebral compression fracture, or blood vessel destruction.

What symptoms are associated with neck pain?

If you suffer from a chronic condition of the cervical spine or neck structures, you may experience:

  • Stiff neck
  • Numbness and weakness of the hand or arm on one or both sides of the body
  • Pain that shoots down one arm
  • Tingling of the fingers and/or hand

What chronic conditions are associated with neck pain?

  • Radiculopathy – When a herniated disc causes nerve compression, a patient can feel pain down the arm that is often described as having an electrical feel.
  • Spinal stenosis – This involves narrowing of the nerve openings around the spinal cord or nerve roots. Symptoms are similar to that of a pinched nerve.
  • Myofascial pain – With chronic muscle strain from poor posture, the neck and arms become sore and cause a dull aching pain. This is often associated with sitting at a computer or working with the neck bent.
  • Spinal instability – Usually resulting from an injury, this involves increased motion between the vertebrae. The pain is often described as a tingling of the neck and arms.
  • Injury – Motor vehicle accidents, a serious fall, or a sporting injury can result in an injury to the neck structures. This results in neck stiffness, arm and/or shoulder pain, headaches, dizziness, and facial pain.

What are the treatment options for neck pain?

The treatment of neck pain will depend on the cause. However, for musculoskeletal conditions, treatment options include:

  • Medications – For neck pain, the doctor may prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), muscle relaxants, or a tricyclic antidepressant.
  • Physical therapy – The therapist teaches the patient neck exercises and stretches to help restore strength, as well as improve flexibility, movement, and endurance.
  • Immobilization – For whiplash and strain, a soft cervical collar is applied to the neck, which prevents further injury, relieves pressure, and provides support.
  • Facet joint injection (FJI) – This involves the injection of an anti-inflammatory steroid, with or without an anesthetic, into the cervical facet joints, which are part of the bony framework of the upper spine. Recent double-blind controlled studies done to assess efficacy of these blocks for chronic neck and upper back pain found this procedure to be effective 80-83% of the time.
  • Trigger point injection (TPI) – With these injections, the trigger points are injected with a numbing agent, such as lidocaine. In a recent clinical study, the success rate of TPIs was 100%, with 60% of patients reporting complete pain relief.