When to Worry About Neck Pain … and when not to!

When to Worry About Neck Pain … and when not to!

Article by Paul Ingraham | Featured on Pain Science

We fear spine pain more than we fear other kinds of pain. Backs and necks seem vulnerable. And yet most spinal pain does not have a serious cause. The bark of neck pain is usually worse than its bite. This article explains how to tell the difference.

Please do seek care immediately if you’ve been in an accident or you have very severe or weird pain or other symptoms — obviously. This article is for non-emergency situations. But if you have neck pain that’s been starting to worry you, this is a good place to get some reassurance and decide whether or not to talk to a doctor.

Although it’s rare, once in a while neck pain may be a warning sign of cancer, infection, autoimmune disease, or some kind of structural problem like spinal cord injury or a threat to an important blood vessel. Some of these ominous situations cause hard-to-miss signs and symptoms other than pain and are likely to be diagnosed correctly and promptly — so, if it feels serious, go get checked out. Otherwise, if you are aware of the “red flags,” you can get checked out when the time is right — and avoid excessive worry until then.

The rule of thumb is that you should start a more thorough medical investigation only when all three of these conditions are met, three general red flags for neck pain:

  1. it’s been bothering you for more than about 6 weeks
  2. it’s severe and/or not improving, or actually getting worse
  3. there is at least one other “red flag” (see below)

And there is one (hopefully obvious) situation where there’s no need to wait several weeks before deciding the situation is serious: if you’ve had an accident with forces that may have been sufficient to fracture your spine or tear nerves. I didn’t really have to tell you that, did I? Well, I did for legal reasons!

Several more specific red flags for neck pain: a checklist

Check all that apply. Most people will not be able to check many of these! But the more you can check, the more worthwhile it is to ask your doctor if it’s possible that there’s something more serious going on than just neck pain. Most people who check off an item or two will turn out not to have an ominous health issue. But red flags are reasons to check… not reasons to worry.

  • Light tapping on the spine is painful.
  • Weight loss without dieting is a potential sign of cancer.
  • Mystery fevers and/or chills (especially in diabetic patients).
  • A fierce headache, and/or an inability to bend the head forward (nuchal rigidity), and/or fever, and/or altered mental state are all symptoms of meningitis (inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, caused by infection or drug side effects).
  • A severe headache that comes on suddenly is colourfully called a “thunderclap headache”! Most are harmless, but they should always be investigated.1
  • Severe, novel pain (throbbing or constrictive) may be caused by an artery tear234 with a high risk of a stroke. Pain is the only symptom of some tears. Most but not all cases5 are sudden, on one side, and cause both neck and head pain (in the temple or back the skull), but the pain is usually strange.6 Any hint of other symptoms?7 Go to the ER.
  • There are many possible signs of spinal cord trouble in the neck,8 with or without neck pain, mostly affecting the limbs in surprisingly vague ways that can have other causes: poor hand coordination; weakness, “heavy” feelings, and atrophy; diffuse numbness; shooting pains in the limbs (especially when bending the head forward); an awkward gait. Sometimes people have both neck pain and more remote symptoms without realizing they are related.
  • Unexplained episodes of dizziness and/or nausea and vomiting may indicate a problem with stability of the upper cervical spine. (Such symptoms should never be dismissed by alternative health professionals as “detoxification” or “healing crisis.” For context, see What Happened To My Barber?)
  • Steroid use, other drug abuse, and HIV are all risk factors for a serious cause of neck pain.
  • If you are feeling quite unwell in any other way, that could be an indication that neck pain isn’t the only thing going on.9
  • The main signs that neck pain might caused by autoimmune disease specifically include: a family history of autoimmune disease, gradual but progressive increase in symptoms before the age of 40, marked morning stiffness, pain in other joints as well as the low back, rashes, difficult digestion, irritated eyes, and discharge from the urethra.

Signs of arthritis are not red flags

One of the most common concerns about the neck that is not especially worrisome: signs of “wear and tear” on the cervical spine, arthritis, and degenerative disc disease, as revealed by x-ray, CT scans, and MRI. Many people who have clear signs of arthritic degeneration in their spines will never have any symptoms, or only minor, and/or not for a long time.10 For instance, about 50% of fortysomethings have clinically silent disk bulges, and even at age 20 there’s a surprising amount of spinal arthritis. The seriousness of these signs is routinely overestimated by patients and healthcare professionals alike.11

Signs of arthritis are almost never diagnostic on their own.12 Do yourself a favour: don’t assume that you have a serious problem based only on pain plus signs of arthritis. Pain is common; serious degeneration is not.

Percentages of people with various kinds of spinal degeneration but no pain. Source: Brinjikji et al
Imaging finding Age
20 30 40 50 60 70 80
Disc degeneration 37% 52% 68% 80% 88% 93% 96%
Disk height loss 24% 34% 45% 56% 67% 76% 84%
Disk bulge 30% 40% 50% 60% 69% 77% 84%
Disk protrusion 29% 31% 33% 36% 38% 40% 43%
Annular fissure 19% 20% 22% 23% 25% 27% 29%
Facet degeneration 4% 9% 18% 32% 50% 69% 83%

Sharp, stabbing, and shooting neck pains are usually false alarms

Sharp neck pain is not in itself a red flag. Believe it or not there is no common worrisome cause of neck pain that is indicated by a sharp quality. In fact, oddly, sharp pains are actually a bit reassuring, despite how they feel. In isolation — with no other obvious problem — they usually indicate that you just have a temporary, minor source of irritation in the cervical spine. Serious causes of neck pain like infections, tumours, and spinal cord problems tend grind you down with throbbing pains, not “stab” you.

Sharp, shooting pains are mostly neurological false alarms about relatively trivial musculoskeletal troubles: your brain reacting over-protectively to real-but-trivial irritations in and around the spine. The brain takes these much more seriously than it really needs to, but evolution has honed us to be oversensitive in this way. That’s not to say that the brain is always over-reacting, but it usually is. Most of the time, a sharp pain is a warning you can ignore.

The cervical spine is also surrounded by a thick, tangled web of nerves. In general, those nerves are amazingly difficult to irritate, much harder than people think, but it’s not impossible. Many sharp and shooting neck pains are probably caused by minor neuropathy (pain from nerve irritation) that will ease gradually over several days or a few weeks at the worst, like a bruise healing. It’s unpleasant, but not actually scary, like banging your funny bone (ulnar nerve): that thing can really take a licking and keep on ticking. So can the nerves in your neck.

Is a stiff neck serious?

Rarely. Nearly all neck stiffness is minor, diffuse musculoskeletal pain: several mildly irritated structures adding up to uncomfortable, reluctant movement as opposed to physically limited movement. The most common scary neck stiffness is the “nuchal rigidity” of meningitis — which makes it very difficult and uncomfortable to tilt the head forward — but that will be accompanied by other serious warning signs, of course. Like feeling gross otherwise (flu-like malaise).

If you have severe neck stiffness for a long time, plus any other warning signs, there could be a worrisome cause — but still probably not, and probably not urgent. Investigate if you have enough red flags, and even then it’s likely to amount to nothing.

Miscellaneous medical causes of neck pain that might mean you can stop worrying about something worse

This section presents a comprehensive list of somewhat common medical problems that can cause neck pain (and might, conceivably, be confused with an “ordinary” case of neck pain). I’ll give you a quick idea of what they are and what distinguishes them. If you find anything on this list that seems awfully similar to your case, please bring the idea to your doctor like a dog with an interesting bone; and get a referral to a specialist if necessary.

Important! None of these are dangerous! Although some are quite unpleasant. Reading about medical problems on the Internet can easily freak us out,13 so the goal here is to identify possible causes of neck pain that are not so scary. If you can get a positive ID on one of these conditions, then you get to stop worrying about the threat of something worse.

Some skin problems on the neck can cause neck pain, but are usually obvious — most people will identify them as “skin problems on the neck” and not “a neck problem affecting the skin.” Herpes zoster (shingles) [CDC] causes a painful rash, cellulitis [Mayo] is extremely painful but superficial, and a carbuncle[Wikipedia] … well, it’s just a super zit, basically. If you can’t diagnose that one on your own, I can’t help you!

Bornholm disease [NHS] is a crazy viral disease with several other intimidating names.14 It feels like a vice-grip on the chest and lungs, is intensely painful, and sometimes also causes neck pain. If you feel like you can’t breathe, you should look into this. The infection is temporary. It’s an extremely unlikely diagnosis.

Trichinosis [Wikipedia] (or trichinellosis, or trichiniasis) is a parasitic disease caused by eating raw or undercooked pork and wild game. It can be mild or severe or fatal, and digestive disturbance is likely. It can also cause spasming and widespread muscle pain, including the neck. There’s a laundry list of other symptoms.

 Photo of a person’s temple, with an obvious swollen and tortuous artery.

Temporal arteritis can cause neck pain as well as fierce headaches.

Temporal arteritis [healthline] is an inflammation of arteries in the temple, with a lot of symptoms: severe headache, fever, scalp tenderness, jaw pain, vision trouble, and ringing in the ears are all possible symptoms, along with neck pain. It’s almost unheard of in people younger than 50, and it usually occurs in people with other diseases or infections.

Lymphadenopathy. [Merck] The lymph nodes of the neck may bulge and swell in response to disease or infection. Once in a blue moon, someone might mistake these bulgings for muscle knots. More likely, it will be obvious that something else is going on: a variety of other symptoms.

Parsonage-Turner syndrome, [RareDiseases.org] inflammation of the brachial plexus. For no known reason, sometimes the web of nerves that exit the cervical spine, the brachial plexus, becomes rapidly inflamed. This condition may sometimes occur along with neck pain. Strong pain in the shoulder and arm develops quickly, weakens the limb, and even atrophies the muscles over several months. There is no cure, but most people make a complete recovery.

Thyroiditis, [Wikipedia] inflammation of the thyroid gland in the throat, can be difficult to diagnose, causing a bewildering array of vague symptoms. If your neck pain is accompanied by symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, feeling “fuzzy headed,” depression and constipation, consider checking with your doctor.

Eagle’s syndrome [Medscape] is a rare abnormal elongation of a bizarre little bit of bone at the back of the throat called the styloid process. Even a normal styloid process looks jarring when you first see one: it is so skinny and sharp that it makes one wonder how it can possibly not be stabbing something. Well, it turns out that in some cases it does “stab” you in the neck. This will cause a feeling of a lump in the throat and/or moderate intensity pains throughout the region, possibly including the side of the neck, although pain is more likely to dominate the jaw and throat.15

And one more important one …

Necks just hurt sometimes

The neck is one of a few areas of the body — along with the low back, jaw, and bowels — that is vulnerable to bouts of unexplained pain, sometimes quite stubborn. In most cases, the pain goes away. Pain is weird and unpredictable, and is often the result of the brain being overprotective and paranoid.

Worrying about the pain may be literally the worst thing you can do — not just a poor coping mechanism, but a genuine risk factor. Like noise pollution, the more you focus on it, the worse it gets. That’s why this article is focused on rational reassurance.

If you want more, carry on with my huge neck crick tutorial, for people with a frustrating sensation of mechanical stuckness. Or read about the weirdness of pain and learn more about how to tame your brain’s false alarm: Pain is Weird.


New Mexico Orthopaedics is a multi-disciplinary orthopaedic clinic located in Albuquerque New Mexico. We have multiple physical therapy clinics located throughout the Albuquerque metro area.

New Mexico Orthopaedics offers a full spectrum of services related to orthopaedic care and our expertise ranges from acute conditions such as sports injuries and fractures to prolonged, chronic care diagnoses, including total joint replacement and spinal disorders.

Because our team of highly-trained physicians specialize in various aspects of the musculoskeletal system, our practice has the capacity to treat any orthopaedic condition, and offer related support services, such as physical therapy, WorkLink and much more.

If you need orthopedic care in Albuquerque New Mexico contact New Mexico Orthopaedics at 505-724-4300.

What Is Cervicogenic Headache?

Article Featured on Spine Health

Cervicogenic headache (CGH) occurs when pain is referred from a specific source in the neck up to the head. This pain is commonly a steady ache or dull feeling, but sometimes the pain intensity can worsen. CGH symptoms are usually side-locked, which means they occur on one side of the neck, head, and/or face.

CGH is a secondary headache that occurs because of a physical or neurologic condition that started first. CGH may be caused by trauma, such as fracture, dislocation, or whiplash injury, or an underlying medical condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, or infection. While the pain source is located in the cervical spine, CGH can be difficult to diagnose because pain is not always felt in the neck. CGH symptoms can also mimic primary headaches, such as migraine and tension-type headache.

Cervicogenic Headache Pain

CGH usually starts as an intermittent pain and may progress to become a continuous pain. The common features of CGH include:

  • Pain originating at the back of the neck and radiating along the forehead, area around the eye, temple, and ear
  • Pain along the shoulder and arm on the same side
  • Reduced flexibility of the neck
  • Eye swelling and blurriness of vision may occur on the affected side in some cases
  • Pain almost always affects the same side of the neck and head, but in uncommon cases both sides may be affected

CGH pain is mainly triggered by abnormal movements or postures of the neck, pressing the back of the neck, or sudden movements from coughing or sneezing.

The long-term outlook for CGH depends on the underlying cause of the headache. CGH is generally chronic and may continue for months or years. However, once diagnosed the condition can be well managed with treatment.

How a Neck Problem Can Cause Cervicogenic Headache

In the upper cervical spine region, the trigeminocervical nucleus is an area of convergence of sensory nerve fibers originating from both the trigeminal nerve and the upper spinal nerves. The trigeminal nerve is responsible for pain sensation in the face including the top of the head, forehead, eye, and temple area. When a pain sensation from a cause of CGH is sensed by the upper spinal nerves, it gets transferred to the trigeminal nerve fibers in the trigeminocervical nucleus. This results in pain being felt in different regions of the head.

Several factors can transmit pain from the neck to the head, such as:

  • An injury to the atlanto-occipital joint (joint between the base of the skull and the first cervical vertebra)
  • Injury to a component of the cervical spine, such as a vertebra, facet joint, or disc
  • Cervical radiculopathy resulting from pinched nerve in the upper spinal region
  • Injury to neck muscles
  • Tumors in the cervical region

A common cause for CGH is whiplash injury resulting in pain shortly after the injury. CGH originating from whiplash may resolve in a few days, or may last for years.

When Is Cervicogenic Headache Serious?

In some cases, CGH may be caused by dangerous underlying conditions such as tumor, hemorrhage, fracture, or arteriovenous malformation (abnormal connection between arteries and veins) in the head or neck region. In such cases, one or more of the following symptoms may also be present:

  • A change in the type of headache pain, such as severe headache that is intolerable
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Headaches triggered by coughing or Valsalva maneuver (an attempt to expel air with the mouth shut and nostrils pinched tight)
  • Neck stiffness and swelling
  • Numbness in the arms

It is important to seek medical attention immediately if any of these symptoms are experienced.


New Mexico Orthopaedics is a multi-disciplinary orthopaedic clinic located in Albuquerque New Mexico. We have multiple physical therapy clinics located throughout the Albuquerque metro area.

New Mexico Orthopaedics offers a full spectrum of services related to orthopaedic care and our expertise ranges from acute conditions such as sports injuries and fractures to prolonged, chronic care diagnoses, including total joint replacement and spinal disorders.

Because our team of highly-trained physicians specialize in various aspects of the musculoskeletal system, our practice has the capacity to treat any orthopaedic condition, and offer related support services, such as physical therapy, WorkLink and much more.

If you need orthopedic care in Albuquerque New Mexico contact New Mexico Orthopaedics at 505-724-4300.

Neck Injuries Among Athletes Are Serious. Here's Why.

Neck Injuries Among Athletes Are Serious. Here’s Why.

By Neel Anand, M.D., Contributor | Article Featured on US News

WHEN IT COMES TO football-related head injuries, the headline-grabbers are usually about concussion. However, it’s not infrequent that a hard-enough hit to the head can result in both a concussion and a significant injury to the cervical spine, or neck. What’s more, it isn’t the professional players who are sustaining the majority of neck injuries related to football play. It’s mostly collegiate and youth athletes. When a hard enough hit or fall can result in a fracture or paralysis, it’s essential to look at why and how these injuries occur. Then, we must figure out ways to prevent them – or at least reduce the risk.

It might seem delicate on the outside, but your neck is one biological powerhouse on the inside. It must be flexible enough for you to turn your head from side to side, but strong enough to support the head, which weighs about 10 pounds. Neck stability occurs through the intricate arrangement of vertebrae in the cervical spine – the seven vertebrae in the neck. Between each vertebra is shock-absorbing cushions called disks, and surrounding the neck are muscles that provide strength and allow for flexibility.

Though designed for strength, the neck can be gravely injured. Hard football tackles and falls can result in severe neck injury – in much the same way and by the same force that happens with whiplash during a car accident. When the neck is hyperextended (flung too far backward) or hyper-flexed (thrown too far forward), ligament tears, sprains and strains can be the result. On the other hand, a tackle or fall that pushes the head too far to one side can result in a burner or stinger type of injury. Burners and stingers get their name from the electricity-like jolt of pain they can cause, which may also send the sensation down the arm. These injuries are the result of damage to the brachial plexus, a group of nerves that provides feeling to the arms. The incidence of burner or stinger injuries is quite high among collegiate football players, with up to 70% having sustained one.

The risk of neck injuries in football isn’t only high for collegiate or professional players. Sports-related emergency room visits for neck-related fractures number into the thousands each year, with football among the top five sports contributing to these numbers. And the age of incidence is highest in kids who are 15 years old or younger.

Any neck injury as the result of a hard tackle or fall should be evaluated a qualified medical professional, though most will resolve with minimal intervention. However, there are some signs of serious neck injury that warrant an emergency room visit. These include severe, uncontrollable pain; pain that shoots or radiates into the arms or legs; any tingling or numbness sensations; and trouble with bowel or bladder control.

Like any other injured body part, the neck needs time and care to heal properly. Even if a player is seemingly “fine” after the incident, neck injuries should be given at least a few days to recover. Of course, the best neck injury is the one that never happens. So taking proper safety precautions is always a must. If it’s tackle football, ensure that the equipment is functioning correctly. Shoulder pads and helmets should always be worn (in practice and during games) and must fit appropriately based on both the age and size of the player. Proper technique is also crucial. Remember: You should always see what you hit. Just because you wear a helmet does not mean it should be used as a weapon.

Serving as the director of spine trauma at a major metropolitan hospital for several years, I’m heartbroken to see kids come in with catastrophic but preventable neck injuries. For as much time and attention as coaches and team staff put into concussion detection and prevention, I firmly believe there should also be a significant amount dedicated to protection against serious neck injuries.

 


New Mexico Orthopaedics is a multi-disciplinary orthopaedic clinic located in Albuquerque New Mexico. We have multiple physical therapy clinics located throughout the Albuquerque metro area.

New Mexico Orthopaedics offers a full spectrum of services related to orthopaedic care and our expertise ranges from acute conditions such as sports injuries and fractures to prolonged, chronic care diagnoses, including total joint replacement and spinal disorders.

Because our team of highly-trained physicians specialize in various aspects of the musculoskeletal system, our practice has the capacity to treat any orthopaedic condition, and offer related support services, such as physical therapy, WorkLink and much more.

If you need orthopedic care in Albuquerque New Mexico contact New Mexico Orthopaedics at 505-724-4300.

The 7 Faces of Neck Pain

The 7 Faces of Neck Pain

Article Featured on Harvard Health

If you’re bothered by neck pain, you have plenty of company. Doctors estimate that seven out of 10 people will be troubled by such pain at some point in their lives. But if you were to ask each of these people to describe their neck pain, you would probably get seven different stories.

Read more

Could Neck-Strengthening Prevent Some Concussions?

Could Neck-Strengthening Prevent Some Concussions?

BY ROBERT PREIDT | Article Featured on US News

Boosting athletes’ neck strength in the off season might reduce their concussion risk in sports such as football and soccer, researchers say.

This is among several recommendations from researchers at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., who are looking to prevent these serious head injuries in athletes.

“Our ability to detect sports-related concussions has greatly improved, but our ability to prevent concussions and decrease post-injury outcomes remains limited,” said study lead author Allison Brown. She is an assistant professor in the School of Health Professions.

“We have identified neck strength, size and posture as potential factors that reduce risk by lessening the magnitude of force upon impact. Thus, increasing neck strength and possibly size could substantially reduce risk or severity of injury or outcomes,” Brown said in a university news release.

For the study, her team reviewed previous research on the relationship between sports-related concussion risk and neck strength, size and posture.

A neck that is stronger, thicker or in a forward posture — ears ahead of rather than aligned with the shoulders — may reduce the amount of energy transferred to the brain during an impact, reducing the risk and severity of concussion, said study senior author Carrie Esopenko, also an assistant professor in the health professions school.

Esopenko noted that compared with men, women typically have less neck strength and a higher risk of concussion, more severe symptoms, and a longer recovery.

Their other recommendations for physical therapists and athletic trainers include doing a thorough cervical spine assessment as part of the pre-athletic participation exam, and screening for pain. Pre-existing neck pain has been associated with increased concussion risk in young athletes, the study authors said.

A concussion occurs when an impact to the head makes the brain move within the skull. It can cause nausea, dizziness, problems with thinking, concentration and mood, and other neurological changes.

The study was published online Jan. 15 in the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy.


New Mexico Orthopaedics is a multi-disciplinary orthopaedic clinic located in Albuquerque New Mexico. We have multiple physical therapy clinics located throughout the Albuquerque metro area.

New Mexico Orthopaedics offers a full spectrum of services related to orthopaedic care and our expertise ranges from acute conditions such as sports injuries and fractures to prolonged, chronic care diagnoses, including total joint replacement and spinal disorders.

Because our team of highly-trained physicians specialize in various aspects of the musculoskeletal system, our practice has the capacity to treat any orthopaedic condition, and offer related support services, such as physical therapy, WorkLink and much more.

If you need orthopedic care in Albuquerque New Mexico contact New Mexico Orthopaedics at 505-724-4300.

When Arthritis Causes Neck Pain

When Arthritis Causes Neck Pain – Treatment Options and Prevention Tips

By  | Featured on EverydayHealth

Two types of arthritis commonly lead to neck pain: cervical spondylosis and rheumatoid arthritis. With both types, it’s joint damage that causes pain and discomfort in your neck.

Neck Pain and Cervical Spondylosis

Neck or cervical spine pain becomes more common as you age, often because of age-related degeneration of the neck bones. This wear and tear is what causes cervical spondylosis, also known as osteoarthritis of the neck or cervical osteoarthritis, and osteoarthritis may be accompanied by the growth of bony spurs and problems with the ligaments and disks in the neck.

Cervical Spondylosis Symptoms

Symptoms of cervical spondylosis may include:

  • Neck stiffness and pain
  • Pain that may radiate into the arms
  • Numbness or weakness in the arms and hands
  • Numbness or weakness in the legs or feet that may lead to problems with balance
  • Neck popping or neck cracking, or grinding or clicking sounds in the neck
  • Muscle spasms in the neck
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping

Cervical Spondylosis Diagnosis and Treatment

To diagnose cervical spondylosis, your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and perform a physical exam. You may also need to undergo imaging studies, such as X-rays or an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), so that your doctor can view the vertebrae, disks, and ligaments of the neck and look for any abnormalities, such as bone spurs, that may be contributing to your symptoms.

Treatment options for cervical spondylosis include:

  • Limiting neck movement, which may mean wearing a cervical collar
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or other pain medication to help relieve your pain and swelling
  • Physical therapy
  • Heat therapy
  • Ice therapy
  • Exercises to improve poor posture
  • Chiropractic manipulation
  • Neck exercise to strengthen and stretch the cervical spine
  • Neck steroid injections in some cases
  • In rare cases, surgery may be necessary to relieve pressure on the spinal cord from bone spurs or a herniated disk

Neck Pain and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Another type of arthritis that can cause neck pain is rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an inflammatory disease that can damage the joints. While rheumatoid arthritis typically affects the joints of the fingers and wrists, it can also affect other joints, including the neck.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

The symptoms and signs of inflammation may include:

  • Warm, tender, swollen joints
  • Joint pain and stiffness in the morning lasting more than 30 minutes
  • Fatigue
  • Fever

Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosis and Treatment

A rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis begins with a physical exam and discussion of your symptoms. Your doctor may also order laboratory tests, such as blood tests and X-rays, to get a better understanding of your condition.

RA affects each person differently, and treatment will depend on your symptoms and how severe they are. Common treatments for rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Medications to reduce inflammation and relieve pain
  • Medications to slow joint damage, such as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biologic response modifiers
  • Rest when you need it
  • Chiropractic treatment to alleviate neck pain through adjustments to your neck’s vertebrae.
  • Splints to support swollen, painful joints
  • Surgery when necessary; this may involve joint replacement (depending on the joint involved), reconstruction of tendons, or removal of inflamed tissue.

Ways to Treat Neck Pain at Home

In addition to medical treatments, consider:

  • Exercise. When your disease isn’t active, get moving — just don’t overdo it. In moderation, it can reduce your pain, help with movement, make you feel less tired, and it’s just a good thing to do for overall health. Your local chapter of the Arthritis Foundation may offer water exercise and other kinds of classes specifically for people with arthritis.
  • Ice packs. The next time you need to reduce swelling and pain, go to your freezer and grab a bag of frozen peas or corn — these aids conform easily to the neck area.
  • Not smoking. If you smoke, find a way to stop. The chance of complications from RA increases if you smoke, as do your odds of developing osteoporosis.
  • Warm baths. Besides helping with sleep, a warm bath can soothe achy joints and relax muscle tension.
  • Herbal remedies. If you’re looking for natural relief, turmeric, the common kitchen spice, is known to be an anti-inflammatory and may reduce neck pain caused by inflammation. Boswellia is another natural pain reliever with anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Yoga exercise. This ancient practice, which involves stretches, poses, and meditation, is not only a great exercise, but it also relieves stress and neck pain by reducing tension.
  • Massage. Have your partner or a professional gently massage your neck where it hurts, for temporary relief.

Neck Pain: Related Conditions

Neck pain is common among those who are 50 or older. “But I have children who come into my office with neck pain,” says Robin Lustig, DC, CCSP, of New Jersey Total Health in Lodi, N.J.

Other common causes of neck pain include:

Pinched nerve. This occurs when too much pressure is placed on a nerve by surrounding tissue. The pain from a pinched nerve in your neck can radiate into your shoulders, arms, or back. When you have a pinched nerve, you may also feel numbness or tingling in the area.

Injury or trauma such as a car accident or a fall. Injury or trauma to the neck can have long-lasting effects and cause arthritis years later, Dr. Lustig says.

A stiff neck. This is when it’s painful or difficult to move your neck from side to side. “A stiff neck can be caused by sleeping on your stomach in a funny position for a long time or from a muscle that went into spasm,” Lustig says.

Cervical myelopathy. This condition occurs when the spinal cord channel in the back of your neck narrows, putting pressure on the spinal cord, which can result in neck pain and numbness or weakness in your hands, arms, legs, and feet.

Shoulder arthritis. “People often develop shoulder arthritis where there is wear and tear or overuse,” Lustig says. The pain from shoulder arthritis can radiate into the neck.

Poor posture. If you sit hunched over your computer all day or hold the phone with your neck while you’re working at your computer, your neck can hurt at the end of the day.

Tumors. A tumor in the cervical region of the spine will cause neck pain and should be examined to determine the best course of treatment. As the tumor grows, it can cause pain as it compresses different nerves.

Meningitis. Neck pain and stiffness is a primary symptom of this infection, which can be life-threatening. If your neck pain and stiffness is accompanied by fever and vomiting, see your doctor immediately.

Lack of magnesium. Magnesium is a mineral that plays an important role in the way our bodies function. Many people lack magnesium in their diet. Researchers have linked a lack of magnesium to cramps, twitches, muscle tension, soreness, and back and neck pain.

New Research on Neck Pain

Arthritis cannot currently be cured, but researchers are working from many different angles to learn how this disease develops in order to find a cure.

Some of the new research on arthritis includes:

  • Focus on cells. Scientists are studying T-cells, a major player in immunity. They want to find out how inflammation starts so they can stop it.
  • Gene study. To find the genes responsible for rheumatoid arthritis, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Arthritis Foundation are supporting the North American Rheumatoid Arthritis Consortium. At 10 research centers around the United States, scientists are gathering information and genetic samples from 1,000 families in which at least two siblings have the disease.
  • Other studies. Researchers are also looking at hormones, bacteria, and viruses in the hope of learning more about RA.
  • Clinical trials. As for research into cervical spondylosis, a recent look on the NIH clinical trials Web site turned up eight trials involving this disorder.

Neck Pain Prevention is Key

You can prevent some neck pain with these steps:

Learn stretching exercises. Consult a physical therapist if necessary. You should stretch every day especially before and after you exercise. If after exercising, your neck hurts, apply ice immediately.

Keep your back and neck supported. This is a must, especially sitting at your computer. If your computer is at eye level, it will keep you from having to look up and down and constantly change your neck position. Use a headset when talking on the telephone to avoid straining your neck.

Sleep with support. Use a firm mattress. If your neck is sore in the morning, you might want to buy a pillow that supports your neck as well.

Click it. Protect yourself from trauma by always using a seat belt when riding in a car.

Managing neck pain requires a consistent approach and carefully following the treatment plan outlined by your healthcare provider. You’re the one in charge of making sure you take the time to exercise, strengthen, and soothe muscles. At times you’ll feel challenged, but if you stay determined, you’ll have the best possible outcome.


New Mexico Orthopaedics is a multi-disciplinary orthopaedic clinic located in Albuquerque New Mexico. We have multiple physical therapy clinics located throughout the Albuquerque metro area.

New Mexico Orthopaedics offers a full spectrum of services related to orthopaedic care and our expertise ranges from acute conditions such as sports injuries and fractures to prolonged, chronic care diagnoses, including total joint replacement and spinal disorders.

Because our team of highly-trained physicians specialize in various aspects of the musculoskeletal system, our practice has the capacity to treat any orthopaedic condition, and offer related support services, such as physical therapy, WorkLink and much more.

If you need orthopedic care in Albuquerque New Mexico contact New Mexico Orthopaedics at 505-724-4300.