Woman with neck pain on the phone.

Pains in the Neck

Pains in the neck are apparently of interest, since references to neck injuries have become part of our metaphorical language. A person or situation provoking extreme irritation is referred to as “a pain in the neck,” and “you could break your neck” is considered a serious warning against self-injury. The neck, supporting as it does the head which holds our brain (our crowning organ), is clearly important. Besides, pains in the neck are hard to ignore.

Although many stiff necks resolve within hours, those that last longer and remain severe require medical examination. At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, our highly competent specialists, known as physiatrists, focus on pain management and restoration of function. Our holistic approach is gentle and never more than minimally invasive.

If you have recently suffered from a “stiff neck,” you will remember how incapacitating the ailment can be, particularly if you are trying to drive or reach or carry a baby. While such an injury is not usually serious, it can be extremely uncomfortable and severely limit any activities that require a normal range of motion. 

What causes all that neck pain? 

Very often, a stiff neck seems to come from nowhere. You may wake up with it or make a sudden head turn that feels crippling. The most common cause of neck pain is a strain or sprain of the surrounding soft tissue which may result from:

  • Extreme tension or stress that creates a “knot” (myofascial trigger point)
  • Holding the neck in an awkward position for a prolonged period
  • Sleeping without proper support from a pillow
  • Repetitive activity that requires head-turning (e.g. swimming)

In many cases, your stiff neck can be traced back to a long phone call during which you cradled the phone between your neck and shoulder, holding an exercise or dance position for too long, or working at a computer screen without stretching periodically. 

Symptoms Associated with Neck Problems

If you have a neck injury, even a minor one, you may experience one or several of the following symptoms:

  • Pain, especially in the back of the neck, made worse by movement
  • Pain that shows up a day or two after the injury, rather than immediately
  • Muscle spasms and pain in the upper shoulder
  • Headache in the back of the head
  • Increased irritability, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping
  • Not only stiffness of the neck, but decreased range of motion as you attempt to turn your neck side to side, move it up and down, or rotate it
  • Tingling, numbness or weakness in one or both arms

More Serious Reasons for Pains in the Neck

Not all neck pains are benign. There are seven bones (vertebrae) in the cervical spine, connected to one another by ligaments and muscles. Neck pain may be the result of a sprain (overstretch) or tear of soft tissue due to a sudden blow, a car accident, or a hard fall.

Whiplash, resulting from a rapid, extreme back and forth movement of the neck, is a common car accident injury.

Another serious reason for neck pain is a fracture of a cervical vertebra. A fracture will require immobilization by a neck brace during healing, typically for a period of up to eight weeks; a sprained ligament may also require bracing though usually for a shorter time. In many cases, neck pain may be caused by osteoarthritis, the age-related or injury-induced deterioration of cartilage and bone. 

Warning signs that your neck pain is more serious and that you should seek medical attention may be:

  • Severe, persistent pain in the neck and head
  • Pain that radiates down the arms or legs (cervical myelopathy)
  • Dizziness, double vision, jerky eye movements, slurred speech

Apart from the injuries mentioned, severe neck pain may also be associated, albeit rarely, with disease conditions such as fibromyalgia, meningitis, cervical dystonia, or even a brain tumor or stroke.

Diagnosis Is Key to Treating Neck Pain

At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, we pride ourselves on our thorough physical examinations and our careful diagnoses. After checking precisely where you are experiencing pain and measuring your range of motion, we will, if necessary, administer any necessary imaging tests.

We have cutting-edge equipment available, so we are able to diagnose the source of your pain not only with X-rays but through the use of:

  • MRI or CT scans
  • Electromyography (EMG) to detect pinched nerves 
  • Musculoskeletal ultrasound

Treating Neck Pain Gently and Effectively

At the beginning, we may prescribe ice pack applications, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) to relieve pain and reduce inflammation, and muscle relaxants. Moist heat may be prescribed as well, to loosen tight muscles and increase blood flow, but should not be immediately applied.

As you begin to heal, we will recommend other treatment options, depending on the cause of your neck pain. These may include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Physical therapy
  • Injection of corticosteroids and analgesics under ultrasound guidance
  • Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF) therapy
  • Traction
  • Massage

Pay Attention to Neck Pain and Other Musculoskeletal Pain

When you are in pain, your body is signaling you that something is wrong so it’s important to pay attention. While no one should make medical appointments in response to every twinge, neck pain that doesn’t abate within a reasonable period of time must be taken seriously. At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine you needn’t worry that treatment will be harsh or invasive. We take a conservative approach, focusing on relieving your pain and restoring you to normalcy and health.