Causes, symptoms and treatment options for neck pain and cervical spine conditions

Neck pain overview

At some point in life, most adults experience some level of neck pain. Whether you woke up in the morning with a “crick in your neck” or you have felt the constant dull pain of a spine condition, you understand the frustration neck pain can cause.

Regardless of the cause of neck pain, the discomfort often originates in the cervical spine — the top seven vertebrae of the backbone. The cervical spine’s first vertebra is located at the base of the skull, and the seventh cervical vertebra is located at approximately shoulder level. A small pulled muscle near the spine or a more severe damaged disc within the spine can equally press against a nearby nerve root, causing your pain. Being able to identify the symptoms of your neck pain may help you determine if your pain is caused by a minute injury or a more serious spine condition.

Symptoms of neck pain

Nearly all neck pain fades and disappears over time with rest and over-the-counter medication. However, if it is severe or continues for more than a week or two, you should consider visiting your doctor. The pain and symptoms associated with neck pain include:

  • Sharp pain
  • A dull ache
  • Stiffness
  • Radiating discomfort or tingling down the arms
  • Numbness in the arms or hands
  • Severe headaches

These symptoms could be the result of a number of neck pain causes, including muscle strain, ligament sprain, whiplash or even a medical emergency such as meningitis. The pain also could be caused by one or more cervical spine conditions, such as a herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis (facet disease) or cervical spinal stenosis.

Diagnosing neck pain

Since neck discomfort can have so many different causes — some of which are life threatening — diagnosing neck pain can be a challenge for health care providers. For instance, if your neck pain is accompanied by fever, headache and vomiting — and you are unable to touch your chin to your chest — your doctor may test you for a sometimes-fatal infection called meningitis.

Once meningitis and other dangerous conditions are ruled out, your doctor likely will ask you a variety of questions about the duration and severity of your pain in order to help develop a diagnosis. You may also undergo tests such as X-rays, MRI, blood tests and nerve tests, to name a few. These tests can help pinpoint the cause of your pain and also will help your doctor plan for neck pain treatment.

While nonsurgical treatment for neck pain can be effective, especially in the short term, sometimes surgery for neck pain is necessary. Your doctor will discuss all treatment options with you so you can decide which option you are most comfortable with.

At Laser Spine Institute, we offer minimally invasive spine surgery to help treat common degenerative spine conditions. For conditions in the neck, we offer minimally invasive decompression surgery, which is our most common type of cervical procedure, and in severe cases, minimally invasive stabilization surgery, both of which are safer and effective alternatives to traditional open neck surgery.^ To learn more about the advantages of our minimally invasive procedures, contact Laser Spine Institute today. We can also provide a free MRI review* to determine if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive procedures.