Neck pain and headaches are a very common issue in our society, and understanding the causes and prevention of them will go a long way to leading a healthy and pain free life. In this educational summary, we discuss some of the most common conditions we see in our office. Below we will discuss the following neck-related pain conditions.
- Upper Crossed Syndrome
- Neck Sprain/Strain
- Disc Pain
- Cervical Radiculopathy
- TMJ Dysfunction
Cervical strains and sprains are some of the most common injuries sustained to the cervical spine. A cervical strain is when an injury occurs to the muscles of the cervical spine. A sprain, on the other hand, is an injury to the ligaments or joints; both, however, have similar pain and symptom patterns. Patients suffering from this diagnosis often have pain when attempting to move the head and neck, especially at end ranges of motion. Another symptom that sufferers’ may experience is frequent headaches, which may not seem directly evident to the patient that the source of the headaches may be caused by their cervical strain or sprain.
The main physical causes of this condition are:
- Automobile accidents
- Contact sports injuries
- Repetitive overuse injury
- Prolonged poor posture
Obviously some of the time these injuries are impossible to avoid, such as traumatic automobile accidents and whiplash injuries. At this point there are no steps for prevention and your next course of action is to seek treatment, usually with ice in the days immediately following the injury as well as therapeutic modalities such as interferential electrical stimulation, Active Release Technique, and massage.
In cases where the injury stems from a problem related to overuse, poor posture or improper exercise, there are steps that can be taken to help avoid these injuries from happening. Proper instruction on ergonomics in the workplace, fixing posture and instilling healthy habits, as well as receiving the proper knowledge in exercising can help build a better foundation for a healthy spine for life.
Neck Disc Pain
Discogenic Pain Syndrome is a condition that results from soft tissue damage and associated irritation of the fibers of intervertebral discs. Intervertebral discs are cushions found between each vertebra of the spine that work as shock absorbers to protect the vertebrae by helping dissipate the forces applied to the spine and to help facilitate movement. The cervical discs are found between the vertebrae of the spine in the area we think of like the neck. Intervertebral discs consist of an outer annulus fibrous, made up of tough, fibrous connective tissue, which surrounds a gel-like center called the nucleus pulposus. The outer third of the annulus fibrous is innervated by nerves and contain pain and mechanical receptors which mediate pain transmission from structural damage to the intervertebral discs or indirectly through chemically mediated inflammation.
Cervical disc pain can arise from a variety of reasons, whether by injury or a degenerative condition. In most cases, the condition can be treated to allow the person to continue his/hers active lifestyle.
Potential causes of Cervical Discogenic Pain Syndrome
- Direct trauma – falls, motor vehicle accident, whiplash, sports injury
- Overuse, fatigue, repetitive microtrauma – over hours, days, months of the same position
- Postural – can be either an intrinsic postural problem (e.g. loss of cervical curvature) or an extrinsic postural problem (e.g. prolonged stressful position, protruded head posture).
- Sudden unguarded movement.
- Degenerative disc disease.
Symptoms of Cervical Discogenic Pain Syndrome
The symptoms will vary depending on whether the condition is caused by a herniated disc or by a degenerative disc. With a herniated disc, some people will not experience pain in the neck but will have radiating pain, tingling, and numbness down the arm or around the shoulder blade due to pressure put on the nerve root. Discogenic pain due to an injury can result in immediate pain or pain shortly after the injury. Headaches (usually cervicogenic) can also result from cervical disc pain.
Treatment of Cervical Discogenic Pain Syndrome
Treatment for cervical discogenic pain will depend on the clinical presentation. Conservative treatment can successfully manage many cervical disc herniations. Initial treatment will focus on controlling pain and inflammation. Once pain and inflammation have decreased, early rehabilitation will help prevent chronic pain and disability. This will consist of osseous manipulation, soft tissue therapy, activity as tolerated, and pain-free range of motion exercises. Late rehabilitation will be administered as the condition improves and will include stabilization exercises, patient education, and postural training. Education in proper training, biomechanics, and a home exercise program will help strengthen the spine and decreases the likelihood of future injury. If you fail to respond to conservative treatment, or in cases of severe pain, diagnostic imaging (x-ray, MRI) will be warranted, and an orthopedic consult may be necessary.
Dr. Steve is always here to help your neck pain and headaches. If you are suffering from either please set up an appointment to start the healing process!