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An Information & Resource Guide to Understanding Neck Pain,
Its Symptoms and Alternative Treatment Options to Surgery.

Neck pain may be caused by multiple etiologies such as: degenerated discs, pinched nerves, arthritis and whiplash to name a few.

Most people will have a minor neck problem at one time or another. Normal body movements usually do not cause problems. However, it's not surprising that symptoms develop from everyday wear and tear, overuse, or injury. Neck problems and resulting injuries most commonly occur during sports or recreational activities, work-related tasks, or projects around the home.

Neck pain may feel like a "kink," stiffness, or severe pain. Pain may spread to the shoulders, upper back, or arms, or it may cause a headache. Neck movement may be limited, usually more to one side than the other. Neck pain refers to pain anywhere from the area at the base of the skull into the shoulders.

The Neck includes:

Bones and joints of the cervical spine (vertebrae of the neck);
Discs that separate the cervical vertebrae and absorb shock as you move;
And the muscles and ligaments in the neck that hold the cervical spine together.

Neck pain may be caused by an injury to one or more of these areas, or it may have another cause.

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Degenerative Disc

Degenerative disc disease is not really a disease but a term used to describe the normal changes in your spinal discs as you age. Spinal discs are soft, compressible discs that separate the interlocking bones (vertebrae) that make up the spine. The discs act as shock absorbers for the spine, allowing it to flex, bend, and twist. Degenerative disc disease can take place throughout the spine, but it most often occurs in the discs in the lower back (lumbar region) and the neck (cervical region).

The changes in the discs can result in back or neck pain as well as:

Osteoarthritis, the breakdown of the tissue (cartilage) that protects and cushions joints;

Herniated Disc, an abnormal bulge or breaking open of a spinal disc;

Spinal Stenosis, the narrowing of the spinal canal, the open space in the spine that holds the spinal cord;

These conditions may put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves, leading to pain and possibly affecting nerve function.

Causes

As we age, our spinal discs break down, or degenerate, which may result in degenerative disc disease in some people. These age-related changes include:

The loss of fluid in your discs. This reduces the ability of the discs to act as shock absorbers and makes them less flexible. Loss of fluid also makes the disc thinner and narrows the distance between the vertebrae.

Tiny tears or cracks in the outer layer (annulus or capsule) of the disc. The jellylike material inside the disc (nucleus) may be forced out through the tears or cracks in the capsule, which causes the disc to bulge, break open (rupture), or break into fragments.

These changes are more likely to occur in people who smoke cigarettes and those who do heavy physical work (such as repeated heavy lifting). People who are obese are also more likely to have symptoms of degenerative disc disease.

A sudden (acute) injury leading to a herniated disc (such as a fall) may also begin the degeneration process.

As the space between the vertebrae gets smaller, there is less padding between them, and the spine becomes less stable. The body reacts to this by constructing bony growths called bone spurs (osteophytes). Bone spurs can put pressure on the spinal nerve roots or spinal cord, resulting in pain and affecting nerve function.

Symptoms

Degenerative disc disease may result in back or neck pain, but this varies from person to person. Many people have no pain, while others with the same amount of disc damage have severe pain that limits their activities. Where the pain occurs depends on the location of the affected disc. An affected disc in the neck area may result in neck or arm pain, while an affected disc in the lower back may result in pain in the back, buttocks, or leg. The pain often gets worse with movements such as bending over, reaching up, or twisting.


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Pinched Nerve

The term pinched nerve describes one type of damage or injury to a nerve or set of nerves. The injury may result from compression, constriction, or stretching. Symptoms include numbness, "pins and needles" or burning sensations, and pain radiating outward from the injured area. One of the most common examples of a single compressed nerve is the feeling of having a foot or hand "fall asleep." Pinched nerves can sometimes lead to other conditions such as peripheral neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome, and tennis elbow. The extent of such injuries may vary from minor, temporary damage to a more permanent condition. Early diagnosis is important to prevent further damage or complications. Pinched nerve is a common cause of on-the-job injury.

Is there any treatment for a pinched nerve?
The most frequently recommended treatment for pinched nerve is rest for the affected area. Corticosteroids -- steroids that ease inflammation -- help alleviate pain. In some cases, surgery is recommended. Physical therapy may be recommended, and splints or collars may be used.

Whiplash

Whiplash, also called neck sprain or neck strain, is injury to the neck. Whiplash is characterized by a collection of symptoms that occur following damage to the neck. In whiplash, the intervertebral joints (located between vertebrae), discs, and ligaments, cervical muscles, and nerve roots may become damaged.

Causes

Whiplash is caused by an abrupt jerking motion of the head, either backward or forward, and often occurs as a result of a car accident.

Symptoms of whiplash may be delayed for 24 hours or more after the initial trauma. However, people who experience whiplash may develop one or more of the following symptoms, usually within the first few days after the injury.

Neck pain and stiffness
Headaches
Pain in the shoulder or between the shoulder blades
Low back pain
Pain or numbness in the arm and/or hand
Dizziness
Ringing in the ears or blurred vision
Difficulty concentrating or remembering
Irritability, sleep disturbances, fatigue

How Is Whiplash Diagnosed?

In most cases, injuries are to soft tissues such as the disks, muscles and ligaments, and cannot be seen on standard X-rays. Specialized imaging tests, such as CT scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be required to diagnose whiplash.

How Is Whiplash Treated?

No single treatment has been scientifically proven as effective for whiplash, but pain relieving medications such as Motrin or Aleve along with gentle exercises, physical therapy traction, massage, heat, ice, injections and ultrasound all have been helpful for certain patients.

In the past, whiplash injuries were often treated with immobilization in a cervical collar. However, the current trend is to encourage early movement instead of immobilization. Ice may be applied for the first 24 hours, followed by gentle active movement.

Torticollis is caused by severe muscle contraction on one side of the neck, causing the head to be tilted to one side. The chin is usually rotated toward the opposite side of the neck. Torticollis may be present at birth (congenital) or caused by injury or disease.

Arthritis or damage to the discs of the neck can cause a pinched nerve. Neck pain caused by a pinched nerve generally affects one side of the neck and the arm on that side. Other symptoms may develop, such as numbness, tingling, or weakness in the arm or hand.

Conclusion:
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