What is Chronic Neck Pain?
Neck pain is one of the most common musculoskeletal ailments plaguing Americans today. It’s safe to say that just about everyone will suffer from neck pain at one point or another in their lifetime. While neck pain is not always a serious problem, it does tend to strike fear into the heart of its sufferers as they intuitively understand the importance of a healthy spine to living a full life. Understandably, the second they think something might be wrong, their minds race to the worst case scenario. Furthermore, it’s possible the pain can sometimes be a sign of a much deeper condition, so it should always be taken seriously, especially if it is a constant nuisance.
The duration of neck pain symptoms is one of the most important factors influencing how the condition is treated. If you have been suffering from pain, stiffness, or decreased range of motion for more than six months, you are suffering from what is known as chronic neck pain. While even chronic neck pain could have minor causes, suffering to this length is not enjoyable and the condition should absolutely be addressed at this point.
Symptoms of Chronic Neck Pain
Neck pain of any kind can be absolutely debilitating. What sets chronic neck pain apart from its acute cousin is the fact that it can last for months or years if left untreated. Some of the most common symptoms sufferers face include:
- General Soreness and Pain: the most obvious symptom of neck pain is pain and discomfort in the head, neck, and shoulder. This pain can be constant or intermittent, sharp or dull, radiating or localized, and mild or severe. Sometimes it is described as an aching, general soreness and other times it’s in one specific location.
- Decreased Range of Motion: the pain and stiffness of neck pain can sometimes lead to a decreased range of motion in the neck. This can lead to difficulty looking left, right, up, or down.
- Cracking, Grinding, or Popping: anatomical issues in the cervical spine can lead to odd noises with movement. These include grinding, cracking, popping, snapping, and clicking.
- Weakness, Numbness, or Tingling in the Extremities: Neck pain can sometimes cause neurological symptoms in the shoulders, arms, and even hands of sufferers. These include radiating pain, weakness, numbness or tingling that is either constant or comes and goes. This can also lead to difficult lifting or grasping objects with an affected limb.
- Other Head Pain: Neck pain can manifest in other areas of the head, causing headaches and jaw pain.
- Declining Sleep Hygiene: the disruptive nature of neck pain can lead to issues sleeping, as resting while in pain is very challenging for most people.
Causes of Chronic Neck Pain
There are a number of issues that can drive chronic neck pain. In general, neck pain is caused by any of the components of the cervical spine becoming weakened, damaged, or otherwise negatively affected. It can arise from muscle strains or tears, fractures or other weakening on the cervical vertebrae, and nerve impingement or damage. For people suffering from chronic neck pain, the forces that drive this dysfunction can include, among other things:
- Diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, cancer, and bacterial or viral meningitis;
- Soft tissue damage like herniated or bulging discs; muscle strains, sprains, or tears; or nerve impingement;
- Traumatic injury resulting from falls or accidents; or
- Joint wear and tear caused by the natural aging process.
In any case, chronic neck pain can result from a wide range of issues, so if you have been suffering through life with this condition for some time, you should seek medical treatment today.
Red Flags for Serious Causes of Neck Pain
There are a few neck pain red flags that should cause you to seek medical attention immediately, should you experience them. These include symptom duration greater than six months; worsening, rather than improving, symptoms over that time period; weight gain or loss; severe headaches; drastically reduced range of motion; dizziness, nausea or vomiting; and pain radiating into the extremities. If you are experiencing any of these red flags, you should seek out a medical professional immediately, as they could be signs of a more serious condition.
Speaking With Your Medical Provider at Pain Consultants of West Florida
Fortunately, there are a variety of treatment options available for chronic neck pain. Once your physician has identified the underlying cause of your pain, they will likely start with a conservative treatment approach; this might include things like physical therapy, TENS units, massage therapy, acupuncture, and non-opioid pain medication. If this approach fails to curb your symptoms, they may recommend more invasive treatment options like trigger point injections, epidural injections, facet injections, radiofrequency ablation or spinal cord stimulation. These procedures are aimed at reducing pain and improving your quality of life by attacking pain signals at their source and along their pathway to the brain. Finally, in rare cases, chronic neck pain may require surgery to correct the underlying anatomical issues.