The neck, or cervical spine, supports your head and allows you to move it side to side and up and down. The complex structure is composed of bones, nerves, muscles and joints. When neck pain and stiffness arise, whether from whiplash sustained in a car accident, poor posture while working at a computer or arthritis, it can have a huge impact on your ability to do your day-to-day activities. Thankfully, acute, benign neck pain usually improves within a few days or weeks with at-home treatment. However, if pain persists, it may be indicative of an underlying condition and should be evaluated by a spine specialist like Dr. Daniel Choi.
Causes of Neck Pain
Muscle Strain or Sprain
Having poor posture while working at a computer, reading or looking at a device can cause a painful muscle strain. A strain might also be the consequence of overuse, such as frequently cradling your cellphone between your ear and your shoulder. A traumatic injury, like one sustained in a car accident, fall or work accident, can result in a more serious neck sprain.
A number of issues, including a bone spur or herniated disc, can put pressure on the nerves, causing neck pain and/or pain that radiates to the shoulder or arm, numbness or tingling in the arms or hands, and weakness.
Osteoarthritis causes the cartilage in the neck to gradually deteriorate. The joints become swollen and painful, and bone spurs may develop, leading to discomfort and a reduced range of motion.
A variety of diseases, including meningitis and cancer, can be behind persistent neck pain.
When to See a Doctor for Neck Pain
Most of the time, neck pain will improve on its own with mild stretching, over-the-counter pain medications, hot or cold compresses, improved posture and rest. You should make an appointment at our Long Island spine medicine practice if:
- Your pain doesn’t respond to home remedies
- Your neck pain is severe
- Your pain is chronic (i.e., lasts longer than three months)
- The pain spreads down the arm
- You are experiencing neurological symptoms, such as headaches or weakness, tingling, numbness and/or loss of coordination in your arm or hand
If you have severe neck stiffness that doesn’t have an apparent cause and is accompanied by a fever, a constant, painful headache, feeling sick and/or throwing up, seek medical attention right away, as these are signs of meningitis.
How is Neck Pain Diagnosed?
Discussion With Dr. Choi
When you visit Spine Medicine & Surgery of Long Island for a consultation, Dr. Choi will talk with you about your neck pain and other symptoms. He’ll also ask you about the triggers for your pain, your medical history and any treatments or home remedies you’ve tried.
The next step is the physical examination. Dr. Choi will evaluate your neck for numbness, weakness and tenderness and test your range of motion.
Depending on your symptoms, Dr. Choi will order an x-ray, MRI and/or CT scan. A CT scan and MRI let him see your soft tissues, discs and nerves, while an x-ray allows him to visualize your bones to check for arthritis or bone spurs. Additional testing like nerve studies may also be needed.
If there is a possibility that an infection is causing your neck pain and other symptoms, Dr. Choi will order a blood test.
Neck Pain Treatment
After your consultation, exam and diagnostic testing, Dr. Choi will determine the cause of your neck pain. He’ll explain his diagnosis to you in detail and work with you to develop a treatment plan that’s tailored to your needs. At Spine Medicine & Surgery of Long Island, we take a comprehensive approach aimed at treating the root of your pain instead of simply addressing the symptoms.
Depending on your diagnosis and situation, treatment will likely involve a mixture of several approaches and could include:
- Physical therapy
- Steroid injections
- Alternative therapies like acupuncture
- Chiropractic care
- Medications (i.e., pain medication, anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants)
- A soft cervical collar
- In rare cases, neck surgery