As we get older, we will develop wear and tear, degeneration, or osteoarthritis in many areas, including the spine. This may cause stiffness and pain. However, there are many sources and structures that can cause pain way before arthritis is seen.
Neck pain in young, healthy adults is a very common symptom. If you fall asleep on a couch, use multiple pillows, or you are a stomach sleeper, it is not uncommon to wake up with a stiff neck. Sports injuries, car accidents, and head bumps can all lead to whiplash and sore neck.
Besides physical events, emotional stress can also lead to neck pain and stiffness.
So, if source of pain is not wear and tear arthritis, then what is it? Most common structures involved are muscles. Spasms, trigger points, and myofascial pain produce significant pain.
Joints within the spine, called facet joints, can become restricted and inflamed. Trauma can lead to disc bulging and disc herniations, which can also lead to cervical radiculopathy (pinched nerves). This can also be seen without any inciting events.
It is important to establish a diagnosis, as the treatment will be dictated by the source of pain.
X-rays, MRI, and EMG (nerve and muscle test) may need to be performed depending on history given and physical exam findings. The good news is most neck pain due to muscles, joints, and even discs and nerves is treated non-surgically. Rest, anti-inflammatory medications, and ice are helpful in acute episodes. Physical Therapy, trigger point injections, and at times, nerve blocks and epidural injections are considered depending on the diagnosis.
A proper ergonomic work station, improved posture and sleeping positions, as well as other day-to-day modifications may need to be incorporated
There are other sources that can cause neck pain. An experienced and trained specialist will be able to establish a diagnosis and prescribe proper treatment plan.
Dr. Leon Popovitz and Dr. Michael Mizhiritsky, along with their team of best-in-class orthopedic physicians, are known for their exemplary orthopedic surgical skill and best-rated physical medicine and rehabilitation program. This, along with their top in-office physical therapy and long-term sports rehabilitation processes, leads to athletes of all levels returning to their top physical potential. Contact us today to schedule a consult!