Like the back, the neck comprises many structures, including bones, nerves, muscles and other soft tissues, and injury to any of these structures can cause pain to occur. Joint changes due to osteoarthritis, neck strain due to uneven or heavy lifting, traumatic injury, and cervical radiculopathy are all common causes of neck pain. Some patients with neck pain also experience radiating pain, numbness or muscle weakness in the arms or hands, as well as stiffness and decreased the range of motion in the neck that makes twisting or turning the head difficult and painful.
Cervical radiculopathy is a painful condition that occurs when a spongy disc slips out of its normal position between the neck bones (vertebrae) and impinges on or compresses a nerve where it exits the neck. Nerve impingement can cause local pain and ache as well as pain, numbness, burning sensations and tingling sensations radiating into the arms and hands or the upper back and shoulders. Arthritis, spinal stenosis, and other spine-related conditions can also cause these symptoms to occur. Without prompt and appropriate care, muscle weakness can occur in the arms and hands, eventually reducing grip strength and causing muscle atrophy.
Treatment for neck pain depends on a careful evaluation of the pain to determine the cause. A physical exam and diagnostic imaging can provide important information that can help guide treatment. Cervical radiculopathy and some other nerve-related causes of pain can be treated with oral and injected medications to relieve pain and reduce inflammation, combined with physical therapy to alleviate nerve impingement and compression. Cervical root nerve blocks may also help by preventing pain signals from reaching the brain. Wearing a cervical collar can provide additional support to the neck while the area heals. In a few cases, surgery may be necessary to widen the spaces between the vertebrae where the nerves exit the spine or to perform other types of repairs aimed at achieving long-term relief of pain.