What is neck pain?

Neck pain is discomfort felt in any part of the neck. This area of the body is vulnerable to pain because it is responsible for supporting the weight of the head while still needing to be flexible enough for movement.

Pain can develop in this area for a number of reasons, making diagnosing neck pain difficult in some cases. Sports activity, prolonged use of the upper arm and shoulder muscles or even sleeping the wrong way can lead to muscle strain and soreness. Additionally, whiplash from a car accident, poor posture, stress and conditions like osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease can all be sources of minor to severe neck pain.

If you have been dealing with neck pain that has not gone away after a week at the most, you should see your primary care physician for a diagnosis and treatment plan. In the meantime, learning about the causes of neck pain can help you better work with your doctor to make informed care decisions.

Neck pain and the upper spine

The cervical (upper) spine runs from the base of the skull to the top of the ribcage. Consisting of vertebrae that are cushioned by rubbery discs and connected by joints to allow for movement, the main job of the spine is to protect the spinal cord as it travels from the brain to the rest of the body. Due to a combination of aging and everyday movement, the joints and discs can wear out over time leading to the formation of conditions such as:

  • Herniated discs — This is when a tear in a spinal disc’s outer layer causes fluid from the interior to push out into the spinal column.
  • Bulging discs — A bulging disc is when pressure from the surrounding vertebrae causes a deteriorated disc to bulge out of its normal boundary.
  • Bone spurs — These are abnormal bone growths that often result from conditions like arthritis as an attempt to stabilize worn joints.

Spine conditions like the ones above do not always cause neck pain by themselves, but can result in pain and other symptoms if they put pressure on any of the surrounding nerves in the spine. Your primary care physician can determine the source of any debilitating neck pain through a physical examination and with diagnostic imagery like an MRI.

Is pain affecting your quality of life?

Conservative treatments, such as rest, exercise and pain medication may be prescribed by a doctor, but these treatments are not always effective against chronic neck pain. Surgery is usually considered when conservative options have been exhausted without improvement in pain and mobility, but traditional open spine surgery is an invasive process requiring a large muscle-severing incision and overnight hospitalization.

To learn more about minimally invasive spine surgery, which is an alternative to traditional procedures and results in a shorter recovery time^ with less scarring, reach out to Laser Spine Institute.

We offer a no-cost MRI review* to see if you may be a potential candidate for one of our procedures.