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Chronic Neck Pain
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Chronic Neck Pain

(Neck Pain, Chronic)

En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition

Chronic neck pain is pain that occurs over a long period of time, usually more than six months. There are many causes for this condition. The pain can range from mild to severe.

Contact your doctor if you have experienced neck pain over a period of time without relief.

Nerve Pain in Neck

Neck pain

© 2011 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

Chronic neck pain can be caused by:

Risk Factors

The causes of chronic neck pain usually are also the risk factors. These factors increase your chance of chronic neck pain. Tell your doctor if you have any of the conditions listed above.

Symptoms

If you have any of these symptoms do not assume it is due to chronic neck pain. These may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle aches
  • Numbness down shoulders or arms
  • Tingling
  • Burning pain
  • Sharp pain
  • Dull pain
  • Pain shooting down the arms
  • Loss in range of motion of the neck or arms
  • Shoulder pain

Muscles of the Neck

Neck Muscles

© 2011 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist. Orthopedists specialize in bones and joints. A neurologist or neurosurgeon specializes in the nerves and spinal cord.

Tests may include the following:

  • X-rays —test that uses radiation to form an image; used to look at neck bones
  • MRI scan —test that uses magnetic waves to form an image; used to look at spine and its nerves
  • CT scan —type of x-ray that uses computer to form an image; used to look closely at spine and neck bones
  • Electromyography (EMG)—test that measures how well the nerves and muscles work
  • Myelography —type of x-ray that uses contrast to view the spine and its nerves

Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Options include the following:

Activity and Exercise

By staying active and exercising you may be able to decrease your pain. In addition, your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist. A therapist may work on strength exercises and stretching.

Medications

There are many different medicines that may be used the help you manage your neck pain.

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID)—to treat the pain and reduce inflammation
  • Opioid pain medications (morphine-like medications)—to treat moderate or severe pain
  • Certain antidepressant medications—sometimes used for neck pain
  • Antiseizure medications (eg, Gabapentin , Topiramate )
  • Corticosteroid injection —to treat the pain and reduce inflammation caused by disk disease

Other Treatments

There are other treatments that might be helpful for neck pain. Chiropractic care is sometimes used. Acupuncture has shown to benefit some with neck pain. Another example is low-level laser therapy. This noninvasive treatment involves directing a light source on the painful area. Massage therapy is also widely used, but evidence on whether it is effective is mixed.

In addition, treatments like ultrasound, mobilization, traction, heat and ice, as well as other options may be used.

Surgery

Most cases of neck pain are treated medically. In some cases surgery is needed. The type of surgery will depend upon the cause of pain. For example, if you have a herniated disk in your neck, surgery will remove part of the disk .

Prevention

To help reduce your chance of getting chronic neck pain, take the following steps:

  • Maintain good posture.
  • Take breaks from stationary activities like driving or working at a computer.
  • Sleep on your back or side and use a supportive pillow.
  • Stretch your neck, back, and shoulders as needed.
  • Make sure your desk chair and keyboard are at proper heights.

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Family Physicians
http://www.familydoctor.org

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
http://www.aaos.org

American Physical Therapy Association
http://www.apta.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Orthopaedic Association
http://www.coa-aco.org/

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
http://www.canorth.org/

Canadian Physiotherapy Association
http://www.physiotherapy.ca/public

References:

DynaMed Editors. Neck pain. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated June 30, 2010. Accessed July 26, 2010.

Neck pain. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/neck-pain/DS00542 . Accessed November 6, 2008.

Neck pain. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00231 . Accessed November 6, 2008.

Neck pain. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/tools/symptom/513.html . Accessed November 6, 2008.

Neck pain. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php Updated December 29, 2009. Accessed January 4, 2010.

What you need to know about neck pain. American Physical Therapy Association website. Available at: http://www.apta.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Search&template=/CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=24761 . Accessed November 6, 2008.

Wang G. Low level laser therapy. Washington State Department of Labor & Industries website. Available at: Accessed December 31, 2009. Published May 4, 2004.

12/31/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php : Chow RT, Johnson MI, Lopes-Martins RA, Bjordal JM. Efficacy of low-level laser therapy in the management of neck pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised placebo or active-treatment controlled trials. Lancet. 2009;374:1897-1908.

12/17/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php : Andersen LL, Christensen KB, Holtermann A, et al. Effect of physical exercise interventions on musculoskeletal pain in all body regions among office workers: a one-year randomized controlled trial. Man Ther. 2010;15(1):100-104.



Last reviewed September 2010 by Robert E. Leach, MD


Last updated Updated: 6/17/2011

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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