The neck (cervical spine) is composed of vertebrae which begin in the upper torso and end at the base of the skull. The bony vertebrae along with the ligaments (like thick rubber bands) provide stability to the spine. The muscles allow for support and motion.
What Causes Neck Pain?
Many patients seek orthopedic care for neck pain, because orthopedists are specifically trained in the workings of the musculoskeletal system, including the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of problems involving the muscles, bones, joints, ligaments and tendons. While some orthopedists confine their practices to specific areas of the musculoskeletal system, most treat a wide variety of diseases, injuries and other conditions, including neck pain.
In some cases, neck pain is caused by emotional stress. Most patients are treated successfully with rest, medication, immobilization, physical / massage therapy, exercise, activity modifications or a combination of these methods.
Massage therapy can include Swedish or Shiatsu massage. If you do not have access to a Certified Massage Therapist you can learn to use a variety of massagers to help ease the tension and aches in your muscles caused by stress. Click here to learn more about the beneficial effects of massage.
Neck Pain Diagnosis and Treatment
Very few patients require surgery to relieve neck pain. For the vast majority of patients, a combination of rest, medication, physical and/or massage therapy will relieve neck pain.
How neck pain is treated depends on what the diagnosis reveals.
For example, if pain is caused by inflammation as a result of stretching muscles and ligaments beyond their limits (sports, yard work, etc), your doctor may prescribe rest. Should your neck pain stem from an injury caused by a severe jolt or other “impact” accident, you may be also receive a neck collar for a specified period of time, as well as medication to reduce inflammation.
If medication is prescribed to reduce pain, it should be used only as directed and should not be taken for extended periods of time. In addition, remember that if your orthopedist prescribes rest, it is vital that you follow instructions carefully.
When neck pain persists or is chronic, your orthopedist may recommend a rehabilitation program that includes an exercise program and various types of physical therapy to help you relieve your pain and prevent it from coming back.
In some extreme cases you may be referred to an orthopedist.
An orthopedist is a medical doctor with extensive training in the diagnosis and non-surgical and surgical treatment of the musculoskeletal system, including bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles and nerves.
Surgery may be necessary to reduce pressure on the spinal cord or a nerve root when pain is caused by a herniated disk or bony narrowing of the spinal canal. Surgery may also be required following an injury, to stabilize the neck and minimize the possibility of paralysis such as when a fracture results in instability of the neck.
Determining the source of the pain is essential to recommend the right method of treatment and rehabilitation. Therefore a comprehensive examination is required to determine the cause of neck pain.
Your orthopedist will take a complete history of the difficulties you are having with your neck. He or she may ask you about other illnesses, any injury that occurred to your neck and any complaints you have associated with neck pain. Previous treatment for your neck condition will also be noted.
Next, your orthopedist will perform a physical examination. This examination may include evaluation of neck motion, neck tenderness, and the function of the nerves and muscles in your arms and legs.
X-ray studies often will be done to allow your orthopedist to look closely at the bones in your neck. These simple diagnostic techniques often help orthopedists to determine the cause of neck pain and to prescribe effective treatment.
Patients who require further evaluation may undergo one or more of the following examinations
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). This non X-ray study allows an evaluation of the spinal cord and nerve roots.
CT (computed tomography). This specialized X-ray study allows careful evaluation of the bone and spinal canal.
Myelogram (injection of a dye or contrast material into the spinal canal). This specific X-ray study also allows careful evaluation of the spinal canal and nerve roots.
EMG (electromyogram). This test evaluates nerve and muscle function.
Your orthopedist may supplement your evaluation with blood tests, and, if necessary, will consult with other medical specialists.