How the aging process can contribute to neck pain

Many adults endure some form of neck pain, usually more often after the age of 50 than before.

Neck pain can range from the sudden onset of sharp pain from sleeping in an uncomfortable position to a gradually worsening, chronic pain from a spine condition. Short, acute neck pain can be caused by a strained muscle or temporary poor posture; this type of pain usually resolves within a few days with the help of rest and over-the-counter pain medication.

More severe pain, considered chronic pain, lasts longer than a few months and shows no signs of reducing. Typically, chronic pain is caused by a spine condition in the cervical spine (neck) that has pinched a nerve root in the spinal canal. These spine conditions often develop over time as the spine naturally deteriorates with age. Your doctor can diagnose the exact cause of your neck pain and determine the best course of action to help you find pain relief.

Conditions affecting the cervical spine

The vertebrae in the neck provide support for the skull and are flexible enough to allow a wide range of head movements. Because the vertebrae, discs and joints are responsible for the weight and movement of the spine, they are susceptible to gradual wear and tear. For example, the cartilage that covers the facet joints may wear down from years of head pivots, or a disc in the neck may bulge due to constant compression from high-impact sports like football.

The conditions associated with cervical spine degeneration include:

  • Degenerative disc disease — As discs deteriorate, they lose water content and elasticity. This can produce conditions such as a herniated disc, thinning disc, bulging disc or bone spurs.
  • Spinal stenosis — A narrowing of the nerve passageways or the spinal canal can occur as a result of bone spurs, bulging discs, thickened ligaments or other conditions associated with the aging process.
  • Osteoarthritis — This progressive deterioration of cartilage between vertebrae and joints can cause joints to grind.

These cervical spine conditions don’t always produce neck pain. However, when a bone spur or material from a herniated disc pinches a local nerve root, pain and other symptoms can arise.

Treating neck pain

Neck pain caused by a strain or sprain typically diminishes over time. An ice pack can reduce swelling, while a warm compress or heat pack can encourage blood flow and loosen stiff neck muscles.

For neck pain caused by a spine condition, your doctor may recommend a series of conservative treatments, including hot/cold therapy, as well as pain medication, physical therapy or other conservative methods.

If after several months of nonsurgical treatment you are still experiencing chronic pain, you should contact Laser Spine Institute to see if you are a candidate for minimally invasive spine surgery. To date, we’ve helped more than 75,000 patients find relief from chronic neck and back pain. Our procedures are safer and effective than traditional open back surgery^, and our patients experience a shorter recovery time^ and lower risk of complication.

Many causes of chronic neck pain can be addressed with a decompression surgery, which removes the small piece of the spine responsible for nerve compression. If the cause of chronic pain has severely damaged the stability of the spine, a stabilization surgery may be needed to insert an artificial disc and/or bone spurs.

To take the next step toward pain relief, contact Laser Spine Institute today and request a review of your MRI report or CT scan.