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You Can Get Rid of That Pain in Your Neck

Alen Nourian, MD Orthopedic

Someone you consider to be a pain in the neck may be hard to handle, but a literal pain in the neck can be even worse. Chronic neck pain can make it difficult—or even impossible—to work, to rest and simply to enjoy life.

There are many causes of neck pain. Some come from everyday activities, such as sitting or standing in a way that doesn’t properly support the neck, excessive cellphone and/or computer use, and some types of physical activities.

More exceptional sources of neck pain include car accidents, with whiplash appearing a day or so afterward; arthritis, which creates pain whenever you move your neck but gets better when you lie down; and disc herniation.

A herniated disc, which occurs when the soft center of the disc pushes through the tougher outer ring of the disc, can cause problems if the herniation touches a nerve. These problems may manifest themselves in a variety of ways, such as weakness in the arms, numbness, tingling and loss of dexterity (for instance, difficultly holding your fork when you’re eating).

Large herniations sometimes push against the spinal cord, which may cause balance issues, along with loss of control of the bladder and/or bowels. (If you or a loved one ever experience problems this severe, you should go right away to the nearest emergency room for immediate evaluation and treatment.)

Most of us experience neck pain now and then. Typically, it goes away on its own. However, if your neck pain persists for four or five days and is not getting better, it’s a good idea to seek out a licensed orthopedic surgeon, who can evaluate your neck pain and provide a proper diagnosis. Among other things, your doctor may order an X-ray and/or an MRI to get a good look at the vertebrae in your neck to see what is going on.

Treatment of neck pain depends on its source and severity. Most people get better with a combination of anti-inflammatory medication, rest and—in some cases—physical therapy. Oral anti-inflammatories used to be the only option; recently, a new topical form of the medication that can be rubbed on the neck has become available.

If this more conservative approach to treatment isn’t effective, your physician may suggest moving on to injections. There are a variety of these available, such as epidural injection, facet injection and trigger point injection. Each of these treatments targets a specific cause of neck pain.

When all other treatment options fail and neck pain persists for three to six months or more, it’s probably time to think about surgical treatment. Discussion of this topic often strikes fear in patients because of horror stories they’ve heard from family members, friends or co-workers. While it’s true that, in the past, spine surgery could sometimes lead to a long and uncomfortable recovery, with only minor relief in the long-term, modern technology has brought a dramatically positive improvement to the surgical process.

For example, some spine surgeries can now be performed with minimally invasive techniques that require only a few small incisions that are easily closed. As a result, most patients can go home within 24 hours after surgery and typically experience significantly less pain than with conventional spine surgery.

It’s important to note that, because of these advances over the past few years, if you or someone you know has been living with chronic neck pain, it’s probably worth your while to see a licensed spine surgeon for an evaluation. You may be missing out on the opportunity to live a more pain-free life. My practice is among a few in our area that offer advanced evaluation and treatment for all types of neck pain. Learn more by searching for orthopedic surgeons on the websites of local hospitals, including Simi Valley Hospital.

Whether or not you have experienced significant neck pain, there are a few steps you can take to decrease your risk of neck issues in the future, such as taking calcium and Vitamin D supplements, practicing proper posture and performing exercises that increase your upper-body strength. Your physician can help you make the decision about which of these preventative measures may be of benefit to you.

Alen Nourian, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in spine surgery with Ventura Orthopedic Medical Group in Simi Valley and is a member of the Simi Valley Hospital medical staff.