Not all neck pain symptoms require extensive medical attention, but you should always consider a visit to your physician if you experience neck stiffness, a sharp pain, a dull ache, tingling or numbness in your arms or hands, or severe headaches. Medical advice is especially important if your pain is persistent, or if it comes and goes frequently.
This kind of lingering pain is called chronic pain. If your neck pain symptoms ebb and flow with different degrees of severity – but you’re never quite free of it– you may be experiencing chronic neck pain. Pain is considered chronic if it lasts more than three months and you probably should visit your physician for proper diagnosis. Some potential causes are degenerative disc disease, a bulging disc or facet disease.
Pain can also be acute, or occur suddenly. Perhaps you slept with your head at an awkward position on your pillow, and now your neck hurts. Accident victims also are vulnerable to acute neck pain, which can be caused by whiplash, muscle strain or other injuries to the cervical spine region. Acute pain generally lasts between two weeks and three months, but sometimes can develop into chronic pain if not treated.
Whether your neck pain is chronic or acute, you should consult your physician, who will likely ask questions regarding duration and severity of the pain.
Here is a list of ways to describe your neck pain symptoms:
- Dull, consistent ache
- Sharp or radiating discomfort
- Numbness or tingling in arms or hands
- Muscle weakness in the arms or hands
- Severe headaches
All of these neck pain symptoms and others can give your physician insight to the origin of your pain. For example, if you are experiencing muscle weakness in your upper limbs, it could be an indication of a cervical herniated disc. You have seven cervical vertebrae – which are numbered as C1-C7 – and your physician may be able to isolate the location of a herniated disc by the precise symptoms you describe. The following symptoms could indicate a ruptured disc between corresponding vertebrae in the neck:
- Between C4-C5 – Weakness in the shoulder, sometimes accompanied by shoulder pain
- Between C5-C6 – Weakness in the biceps and wrist, along with numbness and tingling in the hand and thumb
- Between C6-C7 – Weakness in the triceps, as well as weakness, numbness, and pain that may travel to the fingers, especially the middle finger
At times, an X-ray, MRI or CT scan may be necessary to help diagnose the problem. Contact Laser Spine Institute (LSI) for a free review of your MRI or CT scan. If surgery is necessary to treat your neck pain symptoms, LSI has developed a variety of minimally invasive, outpatient procedures to help you rediscover a life without pain.