Neck Pain Treatment
Generally, most neck pain is easily treated at home. Most people can relieve the early, intense pain with a short period of rest, over-the-counter painkillers (like paracetamol), and hot or cold therapy.
Physical therapy usually includes isometric and range-of-motion stretches, with or without heat. Some therapists also use cervical traction, although evidence is mixed on whether it offers added benefit. Contact Saunders Therapy Centers, Inc to start with your therapy.
Non-Specific Neck Pain
Neck pain is one of the most common musculoskeletal complaints in primary care. It affects approximately two-thirds of all adults at some point in their lives. In some cases, it can be caused by a serious disease (e.g., spinal cord compression). However, most of the time, there is no specific diagnosis. This type of pain is called non-specific neck pain or simple neck pain. It usually lasts between 6 and 12 weeks and is often related to sustained positions due to work activities or stress. The good news is that it often settles without medical intervention.
Manipulation and mobilization is a safe treatment that may be helpful in the management of nonspecific neck pain. These treatments involve the use of hands-on manipulation and/or mobilization techniques on the joints and soft tissues of the neck to relieve pain and improve function. These treatments may be performed by a physical therapist, chiropractor, or physician. The evidence from randomized trials is limited, but the results suggest that these treatments can reduce pain and disability. They are also relatively inexpensive and convenient.
Although a variety of treatments can be effective in managing non-specific neck pain, it is important to identify red flags that may indicate more serious pathology, such as a vertebral fracture or spinal cord compression. Red flags include symptoms of nerve compression, vascular compromise, severe trauma, and skeletal injury. It is also important to exclude radiculopathy, which can be demonstrated by Spurling’s test, traction/neck distraction, shoulder abduction, and Valsalva’s maneuver.
Medications may help to control the pain, but they should only be used as a temporary measure. They can cause side effects like drowsiness and constipation. Opioid painkillers are the most commonly used medication. Other medications that are sometimes prescribed for neck pain include antidepressants and muscle relaxants.
The results from randomized trials show that several types of manipulation and/or mobilization interventions can reduce pain and disability in patients with chronic nonspecific neck pain. Compared with placebo, these treatments appear to be superior in improving outcomes. However, the quality of the evidence is low, and the effect sizes are moderate to small. Larger studies are needed to provide stronger support for the effectiveness of these interventions.
Skeletal muscle spasms are common and can be painful, especially if they occur in the legs. They may be triggered by overuse, muscle fatigue, dehydration, or electrolyte imbalances. The pain of skeletal muscle spasms is typically short-lived and is relieved by stretching the affected area. They can also be caused by exercising or working in a hot environment. If they are persistent, you should seek medical care.
The diagnosis of muscle spasms begins with a careful history and physical examination. Your doctor will ask questions about when the spasms began, how long they last, and how often they occur. They will also look at your past health history for clues to what may be causing them. For example, people who are diabetic may experience muscle cramps more frequently than those without the disease. They may also have a greater risk for nerve problems, such as neuropathy, which can affect the muscles.
Smooth muscle spasms can be a symptom of various conditions, including kidney and gallbladder colic, menstrual cramps, and irritable bowel syndrome. Involuntary twitching of the muscles is known as dystonias and can cause symptoms in any part of the body. It can be very difficult to control and is sometimes accompanied by significant pain, such as with torticollis or blepharospasm.
In some cases, a diagnosis may be based solely on history and physical examination, but more extensive testing is usually required to determine the underlying cause of your muscle spasms. A variety of tests may be performed, including blood work and imaging studies, depending on the condition causing your spasms.
Prevention is the best way to prevent skeletal muscle spasms, especially in those who are active. Taking frequent breaks from your exercise routine and drinking plenty of fluids, particularly before and during intense activity, can help. The use of calcium supplements and potassium-rich foods is also beneficial. For those who exercise regularly in warm environments, it is a good idea to bring water with you and to take extra precautions to stay hydrated during workouts. It is also a good idea to get a full physical exam before beginning a new fitness routine.
A pinched nerve in the neck causes pain that can be felt in your arms, hands, and fingers. This type of pain is called cervical radiculopathy and is often caused by spinal disc problems such as a herniated or bulging disc. It can also be caused by bone spurs or vertebral artery compression.
If your neck pain is severe, lasts for a week or more, is accompanied by muscle weakness or numbness in your arms or hands, or does not go away after trying self-care, see your health care provider. These are all red flags that indicate you should seek medical attention immediately.
Your doctor will start by asking you a series of questions to determine what is causing your neck pain, such as when it started and whether you have any recent head injuries or traumas. They will then do a physical examination of your neck. This includes feeling (“palpating”) your neck with their hands and checking how well you can move your head. They may also check your reflexes and strength in your arms and shoulders.
There are many ways to treat neck pain, but some of the most effective treatments are painkillers and heat. You can take over-the-counter drugs such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, and you should apply ice to your neck for the first few days to help with swelling. You should also avoid activities that aggravate your neck pain, such as sports or heavy lifting. Instead, try to exercise your neck every day by slowly stretching it in up-and-down and side-to-side motions. Using a special neck pillow for sleeping can also help.
If your neck pain is a result of a pinched nerve, you may be prescribed medications to control the pain and other symptoms, such as numbness and tingling in your arms or hands. They may also recommend a physical therapy program to ease pressure on the nerves in your neck. They may prescribe specific stretches and exercises, such as moving your head up and down and side to side, and they might advise you on the best posture for your neck.
Neck arthritis develops over time due to normal wear and tear of the neck. The cervical spine is a portion of seven small bones (vertebrae) stacked one on top of another and separated by flexible intervertebral discs that act as shock absorbers. Sensitive nerves run through the neck and are protected by vertebral ligaments and facet joints. The most common cause of neck arthritis is cervical spondylosis, which results from age-related degeneration of the spinal discs and vertebrae. Injuries, including whiplash from auto accidents, can also damage the ligaments and disks of the neck. Over time, the bones can rub together or develop bone spurs and cause pain. Other health conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can also cause neck pain.
Neck pain from arthritis is usually mild to moderate and responds well to nonsurgical treatment. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, often provide relief. Medications, such as muscle relaxants and disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, may be prescribed to reduce pain and stiffness. Heat and cold therapy can help to loosen the muscles of the neck. Assistive devices, such as neck braces or cervical collars, can help support the neck and relieve pain during activities that strain it. Exercises that strengthen and stretch the neck and back can improve posture, as can changing work habits, such as sitting in a supportive chair or taking frequent breaks from computer use.
A healthcare provider can diagnose neck pain by medical history and physical examination. In some cases, imaging tests may be needed to find what is causing the pain. X-rays can show problems with the bones, such as vertebrae fractures, neck misalignment, and slipped disks. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can show more detail about the spinal cord, nerves, and bone marrow. It can also identify masses, such as cysts or tumors, that may be causing neck pain. Surgery is usually a last resort for neck pain, but it may be needed if there is severe or persistent pain or if spinal stenosis causes weakness in the arms and legs, a condition called myelopathy. The doctor will evaluate the patient’s risk factors to determine if surgery is an option.