Contact: John Broom
A stiff or painful neck can quickly stop you from doing even the simplest things. It affects sleep, your appetite and can even prevent you from enjoying the company of friends or family.
Pain Management Specialist John Hill, MD, who oversees the Interventional Pain Center at Ashtabula County Medical Center, said common neck pain may come and go, but pain that lasts needs diagnosed by a physician.
But, who do you see?
"Neck problems may begin in the neck or shoulder or back," he said. "See your family physician first, but you may also need to see an orthopaedic surgeon, neurologist, or pain management specialist."
Causes of neck pain include:
- A pinched nerve
- A narrowed spinal canal, known as spinal stenosis.
- A sprained neck
- A spinal infection.
- Other medical conditions such as fibromyalgia
- Emotional Distress
- Physical overexertion
"Other than injury or infection, most causes are related to aging or improper movement of the neck or head," Dr. Hill said. "If you experience pain for a day or so, and it goes away, you probably do not need to worry. Take over-the-counter pain relief and hold off on exercise, heavy lifting or anything that causes repetitive motion."
However, you should call your family physician if:
- Your neck is so stiff that you can't touch your chin to your chest.
- Your neck doesn't feel better after three weeks.
- Your pain is accompanied by leg weakness.
- Your pain causes nausea or headaches.
- Your pain also shoots down one arm, or your arms or hands tingle or become numb.
If the pain is accompanied by nausea and a fever, seek medical help immediately to rule out the risk of meningitis.
For long-lasting neck pain, treatment may begin with a combination of pain reliever and muscle relaxant.
"A physician may seem like they are taking it slow with neck pain, but we need to rule out basic injuries before we start treating for major illnesses. Your pain may be nothing more than sleeping in an awkward position or sitting at your desk with your neck stretched improperly. These are cured by time, physical therapy and ensuring you are not straining the neck," Dr. Hill said. If physical therapy and medication do not alleviate the pain, a physician may request X-rays of the neck, a CT scan of the neck or head, as well as a blood test to look for viral-related causes.
"Your family physician will consult with a pain management specialist to help control pain for recurring or chronic neck pain; if it is determined other treatment is ineffective," Dr. Hill said. "Surgery is not a primary option, and there are many ways we can control pain, or heal damaged neck muscles, joints or spinal injuries."
If you do not have a family physician, schedule an appointment with an ACMC family physician or nurse practitioner by calling 440-997-6969. If your physician refers you to a Pain Management Specialist, call ACMC's Interventional Pain Center at 440-997-6700.