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Chronic Neck Pain

(Neck Pain, Chronic)

Definition

Chronic neck pain is pain in the neck over a long period of time. It usually lasts more than 3 months. The pain can range from mild to severe.

Nerve Pain in Neck

Neck pain
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Causes    TOP

Chronic neck pain can be caused by a number of conditions, including problems with the muscles, nerves, or bones.

Risk Factors    TOP

Factors that may increase your risk of chronic neck pain include having:

Symptoms    TOP

Chronic neck pain may also cause you to have neck stiffness. Pain may be worse when moving your neck. The pain can be any type of pain including burning, sharp, dull, and tingling. The pain may spread to other parts of the body such as the head, shoulders, and arms.

Muscles of the Neck

Neck Muscles
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Diagnosis    TOP

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may be referred to a specialist. Orthopedists specialize in bones and joints. A neurologist or neurosurgeon specializes in the nerves and spinal cord.

Images of your spine may be needed. This can be done with:

Your nerve and muscle function may need to be measured. This can be done using electromyography (EMG).

Treatment    TOP

Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Options include the following:

Activity and Exercise

You may be able to decrease your pain by staying active and exercising. Your doctor may also refer you to a physical therapist. A therapist may work on strength exercises and stretching.

Medications

There are many different medications that may be used to help you manage your neck pain.

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)—to treat the pain and reduce inflammation
  • Acetaminophen—to treat pain
  • Certain antidepressant medications—sometimes used for neck pain
  • Certain antiseizure medications
  • Corticosteroid injection—to treat the pain and reduce inflammation caused by disc disease

Other Treatments    TOP

There are other treatments that might be helpful for neck pain.

  • Low-level laser therapy— a light source is directed on the painful area
  • Electrotherapy treatments, such as repetitive magnetic stimulation, and nerve and muscle stimulation
  • Chiropractic care
  • Acupuncture
  • Intermittent traction (pulling on the neck)
  • Massage

Surgery    TOP

Most cases of neck pain are treated medically. In some cases surgery is needed. The type of surgery will depend on the cause of pain. For example, if you have a herniated disc in your neck, surgery will remove the damaged part of the disc.

Prevention    TOP

To help reduce your chance of neck pain:

  • Maintain good posture.
  • Take breaks from activities that do not involve movement such as driving or working at a computer.
  • Avoid sleeping with too many pillows.
  • Get plenty of exercise.
  • Make sure your desk chair and keyboard are at proper heights.
  • Avoid cradling the phone in your neck.

RESOURCES:

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
http://www.familydoctor.org
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
http://orthoinfo.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

The Canadian Orthopaedic Association
http://www.coa-aco.org
When it Hurts to Move—Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
http://whenithurtstomove.org

References:

Binder A. Neck pain. Am Fam Physician. 2005;71(11):117-118.
Cervical radicular pain and radiculopathy. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated September 16, 2016. Accessed September 7, 2017.
Langevin P, Lowcock J, Weber J, et al. Botulinum toxin intramuscular injections for neck pain: a systematic review and metaanalysis. J Rheumatol. 2011;38(2):203-214.
Misailidou V, Malliou P, Beneka A, Karagiannidis A, Godolias G. Assessment of patients with neck pain: a review of definitions, selection criteria, and measurement tools. J Chiropr Med. 2010;9(2):49-59.
Neck pain. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed September 7, 2017.
Neck pain. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated December 2013. Accessed September 7, 2017.
What a pain in the neck! American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed September 7, 2017.
12/17/2010 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed...: Andersen LL, Christensen KB, Holtermann A, et al. Effect of physical exercise interventions on musculoskeletal pain in all body regions among office workers: a one-year randomized controlled trial. Man Ther. 2010;15(1):100-104.
11/11/2013 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed...: Kroeling P, Gross A, Graham N, et al. Electrotherapy for neck pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;8:CD004251.
Last reviewed September 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Laura Lei-Rivera, PT, DPT, GCS
Last Updated: 9/3/2015

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