Neck Pain – When to Seek Immediate Medical Attention
Posted: Aug 10, 2018
Since the neck is flexible and provides support to the weight of your head, it can be susceptible to injuries, conditions, and diseases that can cause you pain, limit your range of motion (ROM) and prevent you from performing activities like working, driving and playing sports.
Neck pain can be either acute or chronic. Acute pain starts suddenly, increases rapidly and heals in a few days or weeks on its own or with a conservative treatment at home. It is often caused by a ligament sprain or muscle strain.
Chronic pain, on the other hand, starts to build gradually and lasts longer than three months. The pain can be episodic, and its intensity may vary from time to time. Usually, it starts from one point and then radiates to arms, back and shoulders. Sometimes, the pain begins in another area of the body and moves to the neck.
Neck pain can occur at any age. However, it is more common among the adults aged 30 to 50 years. Bad posture, smoking, inactivity, excessive involvement in athletic activities, excessive computer work and frequent lifting of heavy objects are some factors that increase the risk of developing neck pain.
Some common causes of neck pain include:
Neck spasms are contractions of muscles in your neck that make it tight, hard and painful, thus preventing you from moving your neck and shoulders.
Poor posture, prolonged movements of the neck, emotional stress, strain caused by exercise, cervical spondylosis and temporomandibular joint disorder are some common causes of spasms, which are more common among intensive computer users.
The pain arising from spasms could last from a few minutes to some hours or even several days and heals after the spasm subsides to relax the muscle.
A neck strain occurs when one or more fibers in the neck muscles or tendons, bands of tissue that act as a connection between muscles and bones, tear due to overstretching.
Neck strain commonly develops as a result of forcible movement of the neck and head, which may stem from whiplash and stinger injuries. An immense compression or extreme rotation of the neck can also cause neck strain. The intensity of pain from neck strain can be mild, moderate or severe.
Stinger is a common sports injury that occurs when a forceful movement of the head towards the opposite shoulder cause the spinal nerves to pinch.
The injury, also known as a burner, generally results from damage of brachial plexus– a network of nerves that sends signals to your hands, arms and shoulders from the spinal cord.
The athletes involved in contact sports like football, hockey, rugby, wrestling and gymnastics are more vulnerable to stingers and burners.
Stingers are usually transient but their prolonged existence can cause extreme weakness and limit the victim’s participation in athletic activities. To reduce the risk of stingers’ recurrence, they should be properly diagnosed and treated.
Fracture of a bone or bones is the most serious neck injury. A fracture results in breaking of the bone (vertebra) of the neck.
A neck fracture usually results from an accident such as automobile crashes or fall from height. The consequences of an injury to cervical fracture can be fatal as the spinal cord, which combines with the brain to make a central nervous system, runs through the centre of the spinal vertebrae.
Damage to the spinal cord can have a major and lasting impact on your daily life. Severe spinal injury can result in immediate death or temporary or permanent paralysis.
When to Seek an Immediate Medical Attention?
If your pain extends beyond the normal period of healing, it may be the indication of a serious problem that requires instant evaluation and treatment from a neck specialist.
Immediate medical attention should be sought if the following symptoms accompany your neck pain.
- Tension headache
A tension-type headache is the most common type of headache that causes pain, tightness, or pressure around your back of your neck or head, forehead, or behind your eyes. A tension headache often results from tightness, or contraction of neck and scalp muscles that may stem from stress, anxiety, depression, or a head injury.
Tension headaches may occur at any age, but adults and teens most commonly fall prey to them. Women tend to suffer from tension headaches more commonly than their opposite gender.
- Tingling, Numbness, or Weakness
The pain arising from spinal stenosis can cause tingling, numbness and extreme weakness. This condition commonly occurs when the spinal canal narrows as a result of the spine’s degeneration, while putting pressure on the root nerve or the spinal cord.
- Sleep Disturbance
People suffering from injuries like whiplash might have difficulty in sleeping. The lack of nightly sleep can intensify the patient’s suffering and may lead to other health problems.
Incontinence often arises as a result of interruption in communication between the nerves in the spinal cord that are responsible for controlling the bladder and bowel functions and the brain.
- Neck Lumps:
Neck lumps are very common that generally arise from a swollen lymph node, also known as lymph gland. Other possible causes of a neck lump may include bacterial or viral infections, cancer (malignancy), a neck trauma or torticollis.
Neck lumps may be tiny, which aren’t harmful in most of the cases, or they can be very large and visible, which can be a sign of a serious problem.
- Radiating Pain:
Sometimes, the pain moves from the neck into hands, shoulders, arms, upper back or chest, causing the nerves to be compressed. Some of its common causes include nerve Irritation, arthritis and disc herniation.
A number of unusual causes like Pancoast tumor, cancer invading your cervical spine, cervical ribs and instability of your cervical vertebrae can also cause radiating pain.
- High Fever:
Intense pain in the neck with a high fever may be a sign of meningitis, an infection of the membranes (meninges) surrounding your brain and spinal cord.
Who is a Neck Specialist?
The doctors who treat neck-related diseases and conditions may include orthopedic surgeons, chiropractors, physical therapists, ENT specialists, emergency physicians, neurologists, rheumatologists, acupuncturists, pain management physicians, anesthesiologists, physiatrists and neurosurgeons.
What to Expect from Your First Visit to a Neck Specialist?
During your first visit, your neck specialist will perform your physical exam, accessing your physical condition, posture and ROM to determine which movement is causing you pain.
He or she might also order some tests like an X-Ray, a Magnetic Resonance Imaging test (an MRI), Blood tests such as a complete blood count (CBC), a Computerized Tomography (CT) scan of your neck or head or in some serious cases, an Electromyography (EMG), to locate the source of pain and its severity.These measures help your practitioner design individualized programs to treat your pain and enable you to regain normal neck movement, and get back to your routine activities.
MaxWell Medical speclizes in chiropractic care, neck pain tretment, back pain treatment and sports medicine therapies.