What is Neck Pain?

The neck, or cervical spine, is a highly engineered structure of bones, joints, muscles and nerves. The neck stabilizes the head and spinal cord and supports a critical range of motion. Due to the structural complexity, the neck is susceptible to sustaining an acute or chronic injury.

In many cases, common neck pain is a temporary condition that usually resolves on its own. In cases where pain persists, an underlying condition may be present. Patients with persistent neck pain or those who have sustained an acute neck injury may require an exam from a medical professional. As a neck surgeon, Dr. Ernest Braxton utilizes both conservative and surgical treatment options to treat patients suffering from acute and chronic neck pain.

What Causes Neck Pain?

The neck has a greater range of motion compared to the thoracic and lumbar spine; this increased range of motion makes the neck more susceptible to injury. Poor posture, muscle strain, repetitive motion, traumatic injury and underlying medical or degenerative conditions are common causes of neck pain.

Neck pain may be felt midline or at the side of the neck. In some cases, pain may also radiate down the upper back, into the shoulder, forward into the chest and into the arm. Determining the type and intensity of neck pain as well as any impact on motion or weakness will help indicate the exact cause of pain.

What are Common Symptoms of Neck Pain?

The common symptoms of neck pain include:

  • Stiff neck

  • Sharp pain

  • Radiating pain down the back or arm

  • Trouble lifting or gripping objects

  • Headaches

When Should I See a Doctor for My Neck Pain?

Neck pain caused by muscle strain or tension usually goes away on its own within a few days and at most may require mild conservative treatment. Neck pain that continues longer than several weeks will usually respond to exercise, stretching, physical therapy, massage and watchful waiting. In some cases, more aggressive treatment such as a steroid injection or even surgery may be indicated. Patients who do not see improvement in pain after several weeks are recommended to see a medical professional.

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How to Diagnose Neck Pain?

To diagnose neck pain Dr. Braxton will collect medical history and perform a physical exam. During the exam, Dr. Braxton will check for tenderness, numbness, muscle weakness and range of motion. To ensure a proper diagnosis, Dr. Braxton may order diagnostic tests which may include X-rays, CT scans, MRIs and EMGs.

How to Relieve Neck Pain?

To properly treat neck pain an accurate diagnosis is needed to treat the exact cause of pain. Common conservative treatments include:

  • Rest

  • Hot/cold therapies

  • Neck pain medications

  • Physical therapy

  • Posture adjustments

  • Ergonomics adjustments

  • Changes in sleep habits

  • Chiropractic or acupuncture therapies

In cases where neck pain does not improve with conservative treatments surgical treatment may be required to alleviate pain.

When to Have Neck Surgery?

Dr. Braxton works closely with each patient to create an individualized treatment plan. In most cases, Dr. Braxton will begin by prescribing conservative treatment options such as physical therapy. Patients who do not see an improvement in neck pain symptoms after conservative therapy may require neck surgery.

The patient’s age, activity level and goals after surgery are important factors when deciding to have neck surgery. When creating a treatment plan with the patient, Dr. Braxton will evaluate motor weakness brought on by nerve compression, pain that restricts daily activities, spinal deformity, facet or degenerative disc disease, or spinal compression.

What is the Recovery Like After Neck Surgery?

Dr. Braxton uses minimally invasive neck surgery techniques to help patients get back to their daily activities faster compared to traditional open surgery. The specific surgical treatment, patient’s age and activity level will affect recovery time. Following surgery, the patient will typically be discharged the same day with a rest and recovery period of 2-4 weeks. Physical therapy will be prescribed by Dr. Braxton.

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