Understanding Neck Pain: Causes and Treatments

Understanding Neck Pain: Causes and Treatments

Cervical spine pain, which is most often referred to as just neck pain, is one of the most common medical complaints in the United States. Finding out the underlying cause of neck pain helps determine your treatment options.

The medical professionals who are most qualified to diagnose and treat neck pain are neurosurgeons. Their education, experience, and skills allow them to make accurate diagnoses and create customized treatment plans.

Common Causes of Neck Pain

Certain injuries and medical conditions can cause neck pain. The most common injuries include the following:
  • Muscle strains
  • Ligament sprains
  • Cervical disc herniations
  • Cervical compression fractures
  • Cervical vertebra fractures
Strains and sprains typically heal after a short period of rest and icing.

Compression fractures and vertebral fractures can heal according to their severity and the medical condition of the patient. However, it is always best to contact a neurosurgeon to determine the severity of the fracture and to create a treatment plan.

However, sometimes neck pain can be caused by a more serious spinal condition that should be addressed by a neurosurgeon. These can include:
  1. Vertebral osteoarthritis. The wear and tear of vertebral bone and soft tissue.
  2. Degenerative disc disease. The weakening of the intervertebral discs that reduce the load placed on adjacent vertebrae.
  3. Spinal stenosis. The narrowing of the spinal canal and subsequent pinching of the spinal cord or spinal nerve roots.
  4. A herniated disc. An intervertebral disc that has herniated posteriorly (towards the back of the body) into the spinal canal.
An important part of treating these conditions is recognizing their symptoms.

Neck Pain Caused by a Spinal Condition

Neck pain can range in severity and each patient may experience varying levels of pain based on their condition and overall pain tolerance. Other symptoms that may accompany pain include the following:
  • Stiffness
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Muscle tightness
  • Upper extremity pain, weakness, and/or numbness
These symptoms and the condition that causes them can be controlled using appropriate treatment options prescribed by a neurosurgeon.

Treatment Options for Chronic Neck Pain

The majority of cases of neck pain are effectively treated using nonsurgical treatment options. Usually, a neurosurgeon uses a holistic treatment plan that includes any or any combination of the following:
  • Activity modification
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications
  • Pain medications
  • Physical therapy
  • Steroid injections
If neck pain does not respond to nonsurgical treatment options or increases in severity, a neurosurgeon may recommend surgical treatment options. Surgeries used to treat neck pain can now be performed minimally invasively The following are the most commonly performed minimally invasive spine surgeries (MISSs):
  • Cervical discectomy
  • Cervical disc replacement
  • Nerve decompression
  • Cervical fusion
Patients who undergo MISS typically recover faster, experience less pain, and have a smaller scar compared to patients who undergo traditional open procedures.

Seeking Treatment for Chronic Neck Pain

Patients who are experiencing neck pain and associated symptoms are encouraged to make an appointment to learn what treatment option is perfect for their condition.

Dr. Anthony Virella is a Board-Certified, Fellowship trained Neurological Spine Surgeon with advanced training in the management of complex spinal disorders. He attended medical school at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and is a graduate of the UCLA Neurosurgery Residency Program. Dr. Virella is a nationally recognized specialist in the field of complex and Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery and has offices located in Agoura Hills, Valencia and Palmdale. If you, or someone you love, is suffering from persistent neck or back pain, contact us today to schedule an appointment.

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