Maruyama et al: “All but one patient [of seven] with migraine considered the pain to be unique and unusual compared with previously experienced headache or neck pain episodes. Nevertheless, pain was often interpreted initially as migraine or musculoskeletal in nature by the patient or the treating doctor.” Arnold et al: “Pain was different from earlier episodes in all but one case [of 20].” BACK TO TEXT
Neck pain is commonly associated with dull aching. Sometimes pain in the neck is worsened with movement of the neck or turning the head. Other symptoms associated with some forms of neck pain include numbness, tingling, tenderness, sharp shooting pain, fullness, difficulty swallowing, pulsations, swishing sounds in the head, dizziness or lightheadedness, and lymph node (gland) swelling.
At each vertebral level, a pair of spinal nerves exit through small openings called foramina (one to the left and one to the right). These nerves serve the muscles, skin and tissues of the body and thus provide sensation and movement to all parts of the body. The delicate spinal cord and nerves are further supported by strong muscles and ligaments that are attached to the vertebrae.
Other Disease Processes: Although neck pain is commonly caused by strain, prolonged pain and/or neurologic deficit may be an indication of something more serious. These symptoms should not be ignored. Spinal infection, spinal cord compression, tumor, fracture, and other disorders can occur. If head injury has been sustained, more than likely the neck has been affected too. It is wise to seek medical attention promptly.
Neck pain is just that – pain in the neck. Pain can be localized to the cervical spine or may travel down an arm (radiculopathy). All age groups are at risk of developing neck pain. People who sit in one location staring at computer screens for long periods of time may be at an increased risk. About 30% of the population has an episode of neck pain each year. Neck pain may occur slightly more frequently in women than men.
The cervical spine is also surrounded by a thick, tangled web of nerves. In general, those nerves are amazingly difficult to irritate, much harder than people think, but it’s not impossible. Many sharp and shooting neck pains are probably caused by minor neuropathy (pain from nerve irritation) that will ease gradually over several days or a few weeks at the worst, like a bruise healing. It’s unpleasant, but not actually scary, like banging your funny bone (ulnar nerve): that thing can really take a licking and keep on ticking. So can the nerves in your neck.
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Sharp, shooting pains are mostly neurological false alarms about relatively trivial musculoskeletal troubles: your brain reacting over-protectively to real-but-trivial irritations in and around the spine. The brain takes these much more seriously than it really needs to, but evolution has honed us to be oversensitive in this way. That’s not to say that the brain is always over-reacting, but it usually is. Most of the time, a sharp pain is a warning you can ignore.
One of the reasons I wanted to visit the chiropractor was to take a more active role in my overall health and wellness. I specifically chose an integrated clinic, which offered not only chiropractic care, but also physical therapy, massage therapy and nutrition consultation. We discussed the addition of multi-vitamins, fish oil and vitamin D to my wellness plan. One thing I learned through this wellness planning? Everyone’s health journey is different! Since health is personal, your approach should be tailored to your specific needs. My focus on an integrated clinic may not be right for you, but I found value in being educated about all the options available to me.
Determining a treatment strategy depends mainly on identifying the location and cause of the irritated nerve root. Although neck pain can be quite debilitating and painful, nonsurgical management can alleviate many symptoms. The doctor may prescribe medications to reduce the pain or inflammation and muscle relaxants to allow time for healing to occur. Reducing physical activities or wearing a cervical collar may help provide support for the spine, reduce mobility and decrease pain and irritation. Trigger point injection, including corticosteroids, can temporarily relieve pain. Occasionally, epidural steroids may be recommended. Conservative treatment options may continue for up to six or eight weeks.
Chiropractors use hands-on spinal manipulation and other alternative treatments, the theory being that proper alignment of the body's musculoskeletal structure, particularly the spine, will enable the body to heal itself without surgery or medication. Manipulation is used to restore mobility to joints restricted by tissue injury caused by a traumatic event, such as falling, or repetitive stress, such as sitting without proper back support.