Up to three-quarters of the world’s population will experience neck pain at some point in life. Of these cases, up to 30 percent will progress to a state of chronic discomfort, with five percent of sufferers developing some degree of disability. Neck problems can create symptoms that also affect the shoulders, arms, and hands.
If you struggle with chronic neck pain, you need to understand both the condition itself and the available treatment options, including neurosurgery and other advanced techniques. Have a look at the answers to these frequently asked questions about chronic neck pain.
What Causes Chronic Neck Pain?
Many cases of neck pain stem from acute injury situations such as whiplash. However, as the acute injury heals, the acute pain that accompanies it usually disappears. However, an injury that doesn’t heal properly or leaves lasting changes in the neck structures may continue to hurt for months or even years.
Chronic neck pain can also occur due to more subtle kinds of injuries. If your chosen work or sport requires you to twist or droop your head constantly, you may develop a repetitive motion or overuse injury. Unnatural stress on the neck can lead to tendonitis, muscle strains, and other painful problems.
You can even develop chronic neck pain simply by getting older. Natural aging often involves a loss of hydration, which can dry out the cervical discs in your neck. Without this inner fluid, the discs lose height. The loss of space between vertebrae places the cervical facet joints under extra strain, encouraging arthritis.
Other chronic conditions that reduce the available space within the spinal canal can lead to painful nerve compression. Bone spurs, spinal stenosis, and other problems can pinch the spinal nerve roots or even the spinal cord itself.
What Other Symptoms Occur Alongside Neck Pain?
The same bulging discs that can cause chronic neck pain and can also create other debilitating symptoms, especially if herniation occurs. As the disc ruptures, its inner material may irritate nearby nerve tissue. The herniated disc may also compress the tissue of cervical nerve roots that serve the upper extremities.
If you have cervical nerve compression or irritation, you may experience shooting pains, tingling feelings, numbness, or loss of muscle function in a shoulder, arm, or hand. This set of symptoms, collectively known as cervical radiculopathy, can rob you of your ability to perform everyday manual tasks.
When Should You Consult a Neurosurgeon?
Many cases of chronic neck pain respond to conservative care techniques. For example, your physician may advise you to make changes to your sports technique or workplace ergonomics. Massage therapy and other non-invasive techniques may provide at least partial relief.
If these first-line tactics fail, you may need the additional expertise and more aggressive treatment methods available from a neurosurgeon. This strategy may prove especially urgent if you experience serious loss of function or other symptoms in your upper limbs, or if you develop signs of incontinence.
What Kinds of Neurosurgery Can Relieve Neck Pain?
Modern neurosurgery features a variety of techniques to correct the underlying causes of chronic neck pain and associated symptoms. The most common of these, anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF), involves removing the part of a disc causing nerve compression and fusing the neighboring vertebrae.
Some chronic neck problems can benefit from cervical disc replacement instead of ACDF. In this minimally-invasive surgery, the neurosurgeon removes the bulging or herniated disc through a small incision, replacing it with a synthetic one.
Other common forms of cervical neurosurgery focus on relieving nerve pressure by creating more space inside the cervical spinal canal. These procedures, which can take various forms, fall under the general category of spinal decompression surgery.
What Other Neck Pain Therapies Can a Neurosurgeon Provide?
After evaluating the underlying cause of your neck pain, your neurosurgeon may decide to administer injection therapy instead of surgery. The right combination of steroids and analgesic drugs, injected into just the right spot, can reduce inflammation, pain, and upper-extremity symptoms for months at a time.
Non-surgical spinal decompression may spare you from the need to undergo decompression surgery. For instance, intervertebral differential dynamics (IDD) therapy uses a computer-controlled treatment table to increase the space between cervical vertebrae, releasing compressed nerve tissue, and improving disc height.
Physical therapy can serve as an essential complement to any of these therapeutic techniques. Your neurosurgeon may prescribe such exercises to help you build strength and support in your neck while also restoring lost flexibility or improving your baseline range of motion. These benefits may even help prevent future neck issues.
If you believe that your neck pain calls for specialized care, you need to visit our team at Southwest Florida Neurosurgical & Rehab Associates. Contact us today at any of our offices to learn more and schedule an appointment.