Neck

A Stiff Neck and a Weak Stomach: How Neck Pain Can Cause Nausea

By November 15, 2019 No Comments

Pain in the neck can be anywhere from inconvenient to completely debilitating. This form of pain can lead to other symptoms throughout the body, including tingling, dizziness, weakness, and nausea.  This sensitive area is susceptible to many different forms of injury and damage. Injury can occur in muscles, tendons, cartilage, and nerves, to name a few. Read on to learn about the anatomy of the neck, what could be causing pain, how it is diagnosed and treated, the connection with nausea, and alternative forms of therapy that can help alleviate symptoms.

Structures of the Neck and Spine
There are three sections of the spine: cervical (neck), thoracic (torso), and lumbar(lower back). The cervical spine is the section that exists in the neck. This section of the spine is responsible for supporting the head, lower spine, and shoulder area. It is also used to protect the spinal cord, which contains many of the nerve endings that send signals from the brain to the rest of the body. These nerve endings are a very important part of the entire body’s ability to perform most activities.

Despite the protection that the spine offers, nerve endings can still be susceptible to damage or injury. When nerves are damaged, signals can no longer be sent in the same way, causing a myriad of symptoms. Nerve damage can have many causes as well, partially due to the fact that there are many tiny moving parts that could contribute to many different forms of damage. Some of these small parts include muscle, tendons, cartilage, vertebrae, nerves, and spinal discs. Each has a list of things that can go wrong, depending on an individual’s activity level, history of injury, or degenerative illness.

What May Cause Neck Pain
The many small parts of the neck leave it susceptible to several different injuries. These causes are the most common, but it is important to get tested to ensure that the cause of neck pain is diagnosed correctly. Some of the most common causes of neck pain are:

  • Previous Injury: some traumatic injuries, especially those that involved a form of whiplash, can contribute to neck pain after the injury and later in life. Some injuries may heal, but they can sometimes heal in an incorrect way that leads to neck pain later in life.
  • Arthritis: arthritis is characterized by the gradual degeneration of soft tissue in the body. Osteoarthritis in the cervical spine typically affects the articular cartilage between the bone of the vertebrae, causing them to rub against one another and cause damage. This damage can not only cause pain, it can also change the structure of the joint to the point where it is pinching or causing damage to nearby nerves.
  • Poor Posture: a lifetime of holding the neck in a poor position can lead to neck problems and pain later in life.

The aspect of neck pain that can lead to nausea involves the condition called cervical vertigo. Cervical vertigo is caused by a nerve or blood vessel being pinched in the neck. This can lead to nerve signals not being sent where they need to go and disrupted oxygen flow if it is a pinched blood vessel. This condition can also impact the inner ear, causing the sensation of dizziness or nausea. Cervical vertigo and neck problems in general have a long list of potential symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms of Neck Pain
The predominant symptom of an underlying issue in the neck is pain. This can be a pain that begins as dull and increases in intensity over time, or this can be a pain that comes on suddenly or only during certain activities. The degree of pain that an individual feels can vary greatly. It is generally recommended to see a doctor once it seems to be impacting daily life. This could look like disrupted sleep, inability to perform simple tasks, or difficulty exercising. There are other symptoms that may be associated with neck pain:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Tenderness
  • Tingling sensation in the neck, shoulders, or back

Nausea that is associated with neck pain is often a result of other symptoms such as dizziness or loss of balance. It is important to describe the symptoms with as much detail as possible when consulting with a doctor.

Diagnosing Neck Pain
The first step of diagnosing neck pain involves a consultation with a doctor. One of the best ways to ensure an accurate diagnosis is to be honest about all the symptoms experienced. Some symptoms that may not be related could be important information for doctors that leads to a diagnosis. Doctors during a consultation may perform small tests meant to help pinpoint the location of the source. These tests may involve turning the head, moving the eyes, and searching for sensitivities by touching the neck. Initial testing may indicate certain conditions, but doctors often use the help of certain technology in order to diagnose a condition:

  • MRI: Magnetic Resonance Imaging allows doctors to see a picture of the soft tissues in the neck, which could indicate a pinched or damaged nerve and blood vessel.
  • CT Scan: this form of imaging creates a 3D image that lets doctors see if there is an issue within a specific cross-section of the neck.
  • X-Ray: this type of imaging creates an image of bone structures that may indicate pinching or other soft tissue damage. Abnormalities of the bone can also be observed via X-Ray.
  • EMG: electromyography tests the speed at which nerve signals are conducted throughout the body. This may indicate nerve damage, as a damaged nerve sends signals more slowly than a healthy one.

Once a diagnosis has been made, doctors can begin to devise a treatment plan that is unique for each patient.

Conventional Treatments of Neck Pain and Associated Symptoms
Treating neck pain often begins with simply taking over-the-counter painkillers and resting the area. Applying heat or cold to the area can help with pain management as well. It may also be recommended that a patient take anti-nausea or anti-dizziness medication. Supplies for these minimally invasive treatments can be found at most drug and big box stores.

If the initial steps of treatment fail to reduce pain, there are other treatment options that doctors may recommend to alleviate symptoms. These include:

  • Physical Therapy: the practice of physical therapy generally seeks to ease symptoms of an injury while simultaneously strengthening the muscles surrounding it.
  • Avoid Strenuous Activity: if there is a motion or activity that aggravates neck pain, it is generally suggested to stop the activity or consult a physical therapist about how to do in in a less painful way.
  • Sleep Positions: certain sleep positions can result in reduced pain. A doctor or physical therapist can recommend ways to adjust sleeping positions to ensure greater comfort.
  • Practice Good Posture: good posture can contribute to pain management and reduce the chance of back complications in the future.
  • Prescription Medication: some doctors may prescribe medication to ease the symptoms of pain, nausea, or dizziness depending on the severity of symptoms.
  • Corticosteroid Injections: by injecting a powerful anti-inflammatory solution into the site of pain, doctors can relieve pain symptoms. These injections should be monitored closely, as they have been proven to damage soft tissue over time.
  • Surgery: if neck pain persists throughout the treatment process, surgery may become necessary. Many different types of surgery exist to help neck pain, so it is best to consult a doctor about the options.

Many treatment options exist, and each treatment plan is different based on a patient’s individual needs. There is one more important treatment option that should be considered, regenerative medicine.

Alternative Therapies for Neck Pain and Associated Symptoms
The up-and-coming practice of regenerative medicine is using a patient’s own cells to amplify their body’s healing abilities. These forms of therapy work with cells that already exist in the body to help an injury or damage heal. There are two forms of regenerative medicine offered at CELLAXYS:

  • Stem Cell Therapy: this form of therapy begins with a sample of a patient’s stem cells. These most often come from blood cells, fat tissue, or bone marrow. Once the stem cells are extracted they are processed to become more concentrated. They are then reinjected into the site of pain. These cells contain properties that make them ideal for helping to heal an injury or degeneration.
  • Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Therapy: this form of therapy begins with a simple blood draw, which is then processed using centrifugal force. The purpose of the centrifuge is to separate platelets from other properties found in blood. Platelets contain proteins and healing factors that occur in the body’s natural healing process. They are injected into the injury site with the premise that an increased number of healing properties could speed up the body’s natural processes.

These therapies typically involve imaging techniques such as ultrasound or MRI in order to guide the needle to where it needs to go. These are outpatient procedures and typically don’t take longer than one or two hours. Some patients report feeling some pain at the injection site that usually goes away in a matter of days. Some patients report feeling almost instant pain relief from these treatments.

Regenerative medicine may be a good treatment option for sufferers of neck pain. They can help with pain and the symptoms that come with it. These treatments could help heal nerves that have been damaged, as well as muscle or other tissue injuries.

When making the decision of how to manage pain, it is important to be aware of all the options on the market. Regenerative medicine could be a solution to chronic neck pain.

Conclusion
Neck pain alone can be difficult to manage. Some individuals experiencing neck pain can experience symptoms that accompany pain, including nausea or dizziness. These symptoms can impact daily life negatively and should therefore be addressed. Meeting with doctors will set patients on a path to a unique treatment plan. There are many options on the market for treating neck pain, many of which address the accompanying symptoms as well. Investigating all of the treatment options available, including the new practices of regenerative medicine, can lead to relief from symptoms. Without the symptoms of neck pain, quality of life can begin to improve.

Dr. Matthew HC Otten

Dr. Matthew HC Otten

Director of Orthopedic & Orthobiologics
Fellowship-trained & Board Certified in Sports medicine
Director Angiography at Harvard Clinical Research Institute
Michigan Stage University Alumni