Treatment for Neck Pain
Pain in the cervical region is one of the most common reasons for a visit to the doctor. Underlying causes of the discomfort may range from a minor neck strain from sleeping on too many pillows to bacterial meningitis which may be life-threatening.
- Pain with rotation or flexion/extension of the neck
- Pain across the upper shoulder region
- Stiffness in the muscles which move the head and neck
- Swelling of the muscles which move the head and neck
- Band-like tightness around the head (tension headache) may result as an extension of neck muscle pain and vice-versa
- Accompanying headache and fever are ominous signs
Who is at risk?
Anyone may be at risk for neck pain. While we may suspect more serious causes of neck pain in certain age groups such as meningitis in small children or college age young adults, we may see neck stiffness and pain from minor injury in any age group. One of the most common presenting histories accompanying neck pain is that of being rear-ended in an automobile which usually results in muscle strain to the neck and upper back muscles. Another common source in middle age groups and seniors is pain from osteoarthritis which is simply the wearing out of the discs and vertebra which make up the spinal column.
Treatment depends upon the source of the pain. Anyone suspected of neck pain from meningitis should be evaluated by a physician immediately. If the physician suspects meningitis as an origin of your discomfort, they may perform a lumbar puncture to extract fluid from your spinal column for testing. Meningitis is potentially life-threatening and will likely require your admission to the hospital for observation and continued treatment with IV antibiotics.
Musculoskeletal sources of neck pain are usually treated conservatively with anti-inflammatory medication such as Motrin or Aleve and possibly a muscle relaxer which may be prescribed by your doctor. Ice may be applied to muscles of the neck in the event of an acute injury. Heat may allow some relaxation of the muscles when an older injury or arthritis is suspected as the cause of the pain.
Emergency Warning Signs: When should I see a doctor?
See a doctor immediately if you have neck pain associate with a headache and fever. This needs to be evaluated immediately for the possibility of meningitis.
You should also seek attention for neck pain resulting from a serious accident such as falling from a roof or being in a rollover accident in a vehicle. Mechanisms of injury such as these may result in a fracture to the bones in the neck or back. If you suspect this, you should have someone call 911 immediately and lie still until the paramedics can immobilize your neck and spine for transport. Careless treatment of a neck or back fracture may result in paralysis or death depending upon the level of the injury.
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