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Finding Relief for Neck Pain
Cervicalgia (neck pain) can be frustrating and, at times, debilitating for those who suffer from it. There are a variety of noninvasive treatments you can try to manage your pain, but if your pain is severe or doesn’t respond to at-home treatments, you may need to consult with your doctor to get to the root of the problem. At Citrus Spine Institute, our team specializes in spinal health and will work with you to create a treatment plan to help you find relief.
Cervicalgia can occur for a variety of reasons, ranging from lifestyle choices to bone abnormalities. Because the neck is flexible and supports the weight of your head, it’s vulnerable to several types of injuries or conditions that cause pain and discomfort.
One of the most common causes of cervicalgia is poor posture or sitting at length hunched over a desk, laptop or smartphone. The unnatural curvature of your spine in these positions can cause strain on your neck muscles. Similar strain can even occur while reading, sleeping or gritting your teeth.
Neck pain also tends to occur more often or worsen with age, as joints in the neck begin to wear down. For instance, cervicalgia is one symptom of osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis that mostly affects older adults. Osteoarthritis causes the discs between your vertebrae to deteriorate, leading to herniated discs or bone spurs that press on the nerves branching out from your neck vertebrae.
Cervicalgia can occur after an injury or car accident. These types of traumas can involve whiplash, which occurs when the head is jerked backward and then forward, straining the soft tissues of the neck. Finally, in rare cases, cervicalgia could be a sign of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis or cancer.
The most common symptom of cervicalgia is neck pain. The specific type of neck pain, however, can differ from patient to patient.
Cervicalgia pain may feel tender, sharp, stiff or even have a burning or tingling sensation. Some patients report aching or sore neck and shoulder muscles, with hard knots that are tender to the touch. Others report muscle spasms — a sudden, powerful tightening of the neck muscles — or a stiffness that makes it hard to turn the head. Still others experience pain in the joints of the neck, which typically gets worse when leaning the head toward the affected side.
Another common symptom is headache — most often a dull, aching pain in the back of the head and upper neck area. This is usually the result of muscle strain or spasm, and tends to get worse while moving the neck.
Mild neck pain can often be effectively treated with lifestyle and home remedies. If your pain is manageable or has not been occurring long, you may want to try some more moderate measures to relieve symptoms.
First, try to be mindful of your posture throughout the day. Simple swaps to improve spine health include:
To ease your existing pain, a good place to start is over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen sodium (Aleve) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). You can also reduce inflammation by alternately applying hot and cold packs to the affected area. Start with an ice pack for 15-20 minutes, several times per day, intermittently adding a heating pad or a warm shower.
If pain persists, you may want to work with a physical therapist or medical massage therapist. These professionals can give you guided stretching exercises and other therapies to provide comfort.
If your pain is severe or doesn’t respond to at-home treatments, consult with a doctor. A spinal health specialist can help you identify underlying conditions that could be causing your pain and can assist you in pursuing more intensive therapies.
To get a better picture of your neck health and properly diagnose a more serious neck problem, your doctor may conduct a series of imaging tests — such as X-rays, a CT scan, MRI and others — in order to choose the proper treatment.
Medical treatments for more advanced cervicalgia may include:
You should always seek immediate medical attention if your neck pain is a result of trauma, such as an injury, fall or car accident.
Additionally, you should seek immediate care for your neck pain if:
At-home remedies are a good starting point for those suffering from mild neck pain. If your pain is severe or persists, consult with a spinal specialist to get the guidance you need to find relief.
In addition to following their recommended treatment plan, keep your doctor informed of any changes you may experience and be sure to schedule regular check-ups to track the progress of your treatment plan.