Neck pain includes general pain and stiffness in the neck region, which can include the neck, shoulders, arms, hands, or head. The muscles can be sore and tense. Patients often report of mild to severe headaches. Most pain is due to the aging of the spine. As the spine ages, the discs can degenerate and herniate. The joints may become arthritic, stenosis can occur (narrowing of the spinal canal), and instability may develop.
There are three types or classifications of neck pain:
- Axial neck pain: Axial pain is Musculoskeletal, and is pure neck or soft tissue pain. Whiplash or muscle strain is an example.
- Radiculopathy: Cervical radiculopathy refers to neck and arm pain due to nerve root compression. Symptoms include arm pain, numbness or weakness.
- Myelopathy: Myelopathy refers to pressure on the spinal cord, also referred to spinal cord compression. Symptoms include: neck pain with arm and/or leg weakness, numbness, or walking problems.
All three of the types of neck pain can be Acute or Chronic.
Acute pain occurs suddenly from an injury or stress. Most of the time neck pain will resolve itself within 7-10 days with rest, ice, and over the counter pain relievers. For symptoms that persist longer than a few weeks, a thorough evaluation by a primary care physician is recommended. The physician will generally obtain x-rays and MRIs, and prescribe conservative therapy. Conservative therapy can include anti-inflammatories, pain medication, injections, physical therapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic care.
Chronic pain is defined as neck pain lasting longer than three months. People who have not found relief through conservative treatments, and suffer from chronic pain may benefit from pain management or surgical intervention.