One of the most common areas where chronic pain exists is in the neck. Many people have reported feeling pain in this area, as it is used all of the time and often mistreated.
Poor posture, injury, or natural degeneration of tissue are some examples of what could be causing pain in this area. Due to the sensitive nerves and blood vessels in the neck, pain often comes with symptoms other than those traditionally associated with pain (numbness, weakness, tingling).
Some individuals report feeling dizzy, nauseous, getting headaches, and vertigo while experiencing pain in the neck.
Read on to find out what may be causing these symptoms, what to look out for, how this condition is treated, and alternative therapies that offer new hope for sufferers of neck pain.
Anatomy of the Neck
The spine consists of three sections, called the cervical (neck region), thoracic (upper back), and lumbar (lower back) spine. There are 24 total vertebrae in the spine. The cervical spine contains seven vertebrae. Between the vertebrae are spinal discs which serve as cushions between the bony vertebrae while also creating support and flexibility. The functions of vertebrae are to stabilize the spine and provide support for the spinal cord and nerves. Nerves are fibers that transmit signals from the brain to the rest of the body and are a crucial part of all movement. Nerves can become pinched or damaged in the spine. This can be the underlying cause of many symptoms including numbness, tingling, pain, instability, dizziness, and more.
Causes of Neck Pain
Pain in the neck can have many potential causes. Some of the conditions associated with this type of pain include:
- Radiculopathy: a condition that refers to nerve damage in the spinal column. This includes nerves that are being pinched.
- Arthritis or Spondylosis: soft tissues in the body naturally deteriorate over time. This condition falls under the umbrella term “arthritis”. Damage to the soft tissue can lead to structural changes that may lead to a pinched nerve or blood vessel.
- Slipped or Herniated Disc: the soft inner portion of spinal discs can bulge into the outer part of the disc, sometimes pinching nerves or causing other issues in the area.
- Neck Strain/Poor Posture: practicing poor posture can lead to pain over time as the spine must adjust to a change in the way it is positioned regularly.
- Traumatic injury: experiencing an injury such as a car accident or a fall can cause neck pain. The symptoms of whiplash, a form of neck pain, are commonly associated with these types of injuries.
Due to the many nerves, muscles, cartilage, tendons, and bones in the neck and throughout the spine, there are many potential causes of pain – any one of these structures can become injured or damaged, causing pain.
When neck pain is resulting in other symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, or vertigo, it is often nerves or blood vessels to blame.
Nerves and blood vessels are constantly sending information and oxygen to the brain, so if either becomes pinched or damaged and cannot perform its normal function it can lead to these symptoms. This pinching can sometimes affect the inner ear as well, leading to issues with balance and dizziness.
Signs and Symptoms
Neck pain can surface in many ways. The pain can be short and sharp, or it can be a dull ache – or it can be anywhere in between. Some individuals experience chronic neck pain while others are in pain only when performing certain tasks or laying in a specific way.
It is generally recommended that an individual seeks the advice of a doctor when pain becomes so intense that it is impacting daily activities. For some, this means not sleeping well, for others it could mean that it is too painful to sit at a desk or exercise. Some common symptoms of neck pain to look out for are:
- Lack of Balance
- Stiffness or Soreness
- “Pins and Needles” feeling or Numbness
These symptoms typically occur above the shoulders but can translate to other parts of the body such as the shoulders or arms depending on where the damage occurs.
Diagnosing Neck Pain
Due to the many potential causes of neck pain, doctors often employ the aid of technology to make a proper diagnosis. They may begin with a physical examination, including observing a patient’s range of motion in the neck and locating the source of pain. Being completely honest about symptoms is important so that doctors can make a well-informed diagnosis. Technology is employed when a specialist is unsure of what is causing pain. Some of the technologies used to diagnose pain in the neck include:
- CT Scan: this form of imaging can create a 3D image of parts of the body which may indicate an abnormality, including a pinched nerve or blood vessel.
- MRI: Magnetic Resonance Imaging is used to create an image of soft tissues in the body, which can be used to determine if there is damage occurring that may be causing pain and other symptoms.
- X-Ray: this form of imaging is primarily used to detect abnormalities of the bone. These types of abnormalities are useful for doctors to be aware of in case they cause future problems.
- EMG: Electromyography is a test that involves inserting needles into nerves and testing the body’s reaction time once an electrical signal is sent through the nerve. A slow reaction time indicates damage to the nerve.
Some doctors may order other forms of testing, but these are the most common and practical. Though these tests are quite accurate, it is important to be honest with doctors about symptoms before the tests occur so that doctors don’t order unnecessary testing.
Conventional Treatment of Neck Pain and Related Symptoms
The treatment process will be different for every patient depending on what the underlying cause is. Generally, pain is initially treated by recommending that a patient rest the area as much as possible. The period of rest may be accompanied by painkillers, over-the-counter or prescription, depending on the patient’s pain level and tolerance. If this initial treatment is unable to ease the symptoms, other practices may be put to use:
- Physical Therapy: the goal of physical therapy for neck pain focuses on posture correction, strengthening the muscles surrounding the spine, alleviating symptoms, and preventing future injury.
- Medication: some medications may be prescribed or recommended to manage pain. Depending on the symptoms, doctors may also prescribe medications that are meant to treat nausea and dizziness as well.
- Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS): this form of treatment sends electrical impulses through the nerves in an attempt to alleviate pain.
- Neck Brace: wearing a device that provides support to the neck could help to take some pressure off of muscles in the neck, but should be closely monitored as it could cause more damage if used improperly or too often.
- Corticosteroid Injections: doctors may opt to inject a synthetic form of cortisol (a naturally occurring anti-inflammatory property) to ease a patient’s neck pain. This kind of treatment is often successful in treating pain in the short-term, but has been reported to damage nerves and soft tissue over time if used excessively.
- Surgery: rarely, neck pain is treated using surgery. There are several types of surgery that may be used to treat this condition, and each has its own list of risks and potential complications. Surgeons have all of this information so it is important to maintain an open dialog with them in order to be well-informed while making the decision to undergo surgery.
The amount of potential treatment options changes depending on what is causing the symptoms. Once a proper diagnosis is made, doctors can begin to formulate a plan for treatment that is unique to each patient.
Alternative Therapies for Treating Neck Pain, Dizziness, and Headaches
There is a new field of medicine called regenerative medicine, which uses a patient’s own cells to heal injuries or damage that has been done over time. CELLAXYS offers two types of treatments in the field:
- 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.
These treatments may be a good option for someone who is experiencing neck pain and related symptoms. These treatments are known to be particularly efficient for soft tissue injury. If the pain and headaches are being caused by a pinched or damaged nerve, this treatment offers the option to heal the nerve to the point where it can send faster signals and reduce pain – the same goes for blood vessels. Helping to heal the root cause of the pain will help to address the other symptoms including headache, nausea, dizziness, etc.
Regenerative medicine offers an option of pain management and injury treatment which is not often offered with conventional treatments. When faced with any chronic pain, it is important to consider all of the potential treatment options on the market that may offer a solution.
Neck pain is a common condition. It can be temporary or chronic, and anywhere from inconvenient to debilitating. There are many factors that influence the sensation of pain. Due to these causes, there may be other symptoms that come with neck pain including dizziness, weakness, tenderness, headaches, nausea, or vertigo.
Treatment of neck pain varies from patient to patient. Regenerative medicine is an important treatment option to consider, as it may do wonders for treating the underlying cause of pain and therefore decrease the inconvenient symptoms associated with neck pain.