Our cervical spine, you know it as your neck, is a common source of pain. The seven vertebrae and surrounding muscles that make up our neck have a complicated job. They need to allow a complex range of motion, all the while supporting our head, which weighs 10-11 pounds. No wonder over 70 percent of people complain of neck pain at some point in their lives.
Over twelve years ago, Dr. Watson began doing a minimally invasive procedure to treat pain emanating from the discs of the spine. He’s performed procedures to help treat pain in the head including the neck at our Tampa office.
types of neck pain
Like all pain in the body, neck pain can be categorized as either ongoing/chronic or acute. Acute pain is usually thought of as an instant sort of pain that is a direct result of a movement or position that creates strain on the muscles. Subacute pain has both immediate and long-term elements.
What are the common symptoms with neck pain?
Neck pain is pretty straightforward. Signs and symptoms include:
- Decreased ability to move your head
- Burning pain when moving the head in certain positions
- Pain that increases when the head is held in one place for a long time, such as when driving
- Muscle tightness
- Muscle spasms
causes of neck pain
Poor posture is often to blame for neck pain. So are single events, such as sleeping in an odd position. Osteoarthritis (otherwise known as wear and tear arthritis) is a common cause of chronic neck pain.
Here are some common causes for neck pain:
- Worn joints — Osteoarthritis affects the cervical spine just as it does the lumbar spine. Your neck joints tend to wear down with age, and the cartilage that provides the cushion between your vertebrae deteriorate. As a response, your body forms bone spurs that affect motion and can push on nerve roots.
- Muscle strains — Overuse of your neck muscles, such as when you’re hunched over a laptop for many hours, is the most common cause of neck pain. The muscles can strain and over time develop knots. Even minor position issues, such as reading in bed with an oddly positioned pillow, can strain your neck muscles.
- Nerve compression — Although you hear of herniated discs more in the lumbar spine, the cervical discs can herniate, as well. This is when the soft inner disc material pushes outward through the outer shell. This will often push on an adjacent nerve that is branching out from the spinal cord. Bone spurs also can place pressure on these nerves.
- Injury — When your head is jerked backwards and then recoils forward, whiplash, this strains the soft tissues of the neck. Whiplash is common in rear-end auto crashes. Contact sports can also cause whiplash.
- Disease — Certain diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or cancer, can cause chronic neck pain.
How is neck pain usually treated?
Most common neck pain responds to self-care in two to three weeks. But if the pain becomes more chronic, more involved treatment may be necessary.
- Medication — Muscle relaxants, prescription pain medicines, or tricyclic antidepressants may be used for pain relief.
- Physical therapy — A physical therapist can help with posture and alignment, along with other exercises and treatments to deal with the pain.
- Electrical nerve stimulation — Electrodes can be placed on the skin in the areas with pain delivering electrical impulses that can provide relief.
- Traction —Weights or an air bladder can be used to gently stretch the neck.
- Soft collar — A soft collar can help relieve pain by taking pressure off of the neck muscles and bones. But a collar can only be worn for three hours or less at one time, and only for a week or two.
- Steroid injections — Injections of corticosteroids near the nerve roots into the small facet joints of the cervical spine or into the muscles in your neck can help relieve pain, sometimes for months at a time.
Neck Pain Patient Testimonial
Neck Pain Surgery
Surgery usually isn’t necessary with neck pain, and is only an option when other treatment options have been exhausted. In patients with chronic neck pain, however, it may be best option.
Dr. Watson will relieve pain by addressing the herniated disc that is pressing on the nerve root. This procedure is called a cervical discectomy neural decompression.
Cervical disectomy and neural decompression procedure
This surgery usually takes from 45-90 minutes depending on if more than one disc is involved. Dr. Watson uses fluoroscopy to guide the surgery and visualize the anatomy of the disc in question. He then uses a laser to treat the bulging or herniated disc. The procedure places sufficient energy into the annulus to turn off the nociceptors or pain nerves, char the annulus, and sometimes shrink the bulge or herniation in the disc. The laser also instantly seals any blood vessels, another source of inflammation in the disc and surrounding tissues. This laser treatment usually removes the pressure on the nerve roots, and the relieves the corresponding pain.
What is recovery like after a cervical discectomy?
This is a minimally invasive procedure, making for an easier recovery. After as little as one to two weeks, those with desk jobs can possibly return to work, at least on a part-time basis. Overall recovery from the discectomy and decompression with Dr. Watson should involve a total of around six weeks. Of course, this varies by the patient, and Dr. Watson will discuss your individual situation with you during your consultation and after your surgery.
How to avoid neck pain
The best way to keep your neck happy and pain free is to keep your head centered over your spine. Most neck pain is due to poor posture, often coupled with osteoarthritis.
Here are some things you can do to prevent neck pain:
- Good posture — When standing or sitting try to align your shoulders over your hips and your ears directly over your shoulders.
- Breaks — If you work at a computer, take frequent breaks. When you do, move around and stretch your neck and shoulders.
- Adjust your chair, desk, and computer — Adjust your monitor to eye level. Your knees should be slightly lower than your hips
- Phone — Although not as much a problem with smartphones, due to their slim profile, don’t tuck your phone between your ear and shoulder, tilting your head.
- Don’t carry heavy bags with a shoulder strap — This kind of weight distribution tends to make your neck compensate the other direction, leading to strain.
- Sleep — Use a pillow that aligns your head and neck, rather than tilting them in one direction. Sleeping on your face often causes neck pain the next morning.
When does neck pain merit calling Dr. Watson at Innovative Spine Care?
Most neck pain improves gradually with simply home treatments. But there are times when a call to Dr. Watson or another provider is in order.
Call a doctor if the neck pain:
- Has persisted for several days without relief
- Is severe
- Spreads down the arms or legs
- Is accompanied by headache, numbness, weakness, or tingling