Millions of people experience neck pain every day. The structure of the spine, muscles, and tissue are delicate and complex, and over-use or over-exertion of muscles can lead to neck pain.
To find lasting neck pain relief, it’s important to first diagnose the cause. Below are three of the most common causes of chronic neck pain. As with any chronic pain, it’s important to be thoroughly examined by a qualified physician to help you find the correct diagnosis and treatment.
Degenerative Disc Disease
Neck bones (vertebrae) are connected by a disc and small joints in the back of the neck (facet joints). The disc, which separates one vertebra from the next, cushions and absorbs the movement between vertebrae. The disc and the facet joints move and allow you to bend and rotate your neck.
A cervical disc breaks down when the disc loses water and becomes thinner, shrinks, or develop tears and cracks in the outer disc layer (annulus fibrosus). Causes of degenerated discs include over-use, accidents, or every day wear and tear.
Degenerative disc disease can cause disc bulge, herniation, or narrowing of the spinal canal and pinching of the spinal cord and nerves (stenosis). Pain associated with degenerative disc disease include low grade pain associated with stiff neck, tingling and numbness in the arm, hand, and/or fingers, and pain that worsens with movement and lessened by rest.
While treatment for degenerative disc disease starts conservatively with rest or lifestyle modifications, surgical solutions such as disc fusion or disc replacement may be necessary if the pain gets worse or doesn’t go away.
A herniated disc occurs when the inner gel-like core of the disc (nucleus) leaks out of the outer disc layer. As the disc loses liquid, it becomes less effective as a cushion. Herniated discs can press onto cervical nerves and this “pinching” can cause pain along the nerve pathway and down the arm. Numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness can also occur in the arm and fingertips.
Non-surgical treatments for a cervical herniated disc include physical therapy and exercise. The McKenzie Method teaches patients how to manage pain originating from the spine and can be effective in treating and managing chronic neck pain.
If conservative care for a herniated disc does not help, your doctor may recommend surgery such as fusion or cervical disc replacement.
Cervical Spinal Stenosis
Spinal canal stenosis refers to the abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal, the channel created by the natural shape of the vertebra. The spinal canal protects the spinal cord. Stenosis may cause the spinal cord or nerves to be compressed and cause pain.
Common causes of spinal stenosis include aging, the normal wear and tear of anatomical structures in the neck, or injury and trauma. Some people do not feel the effects of spinal stenosis, but some eventually notice pain, weakness, or numbness due to the compression of the nerves or spinal cord.
For most people, surgery is not necessary to manage stenosis. Your physician may recommend therapy in combination with other treatments. Drugs and medications can be helpful, as well as acupuncture. For patients who do not benefit from non-operative treatments, fusion or artificial disc replacement surgery may be recommended.
Whether it be from degenerative disc disease, herniation, or stenosis, neck pain has the potential to cause pain and interfere with daily life. It’s important to talk to a physician about effective treatment plans to help with neck pain.
Talk with a surgeon or physician to find out if cervical disc replacement surgery is right for you.
Zimmer Biomet does not practice medicine and makes no representations regarding the third-party information provided herein. These exercises are not a replacement for professional physical therapy or conservative treatment. If you are experiencing chronic pain, consult a doctor to see what treatments might be appropriate. By clicking the Reference links contained herein, you will be leaving the Zimmer Biomet website and will be redirected to the applicable Reference website(s), of which Zimmer Biomet has no affiliation.