Burning Neck PainNeck pain with a burning sensation can be due to many different conditions. Dysfunction of the nervous system itself, structural problems impacting on nerves and their roots, and inflammation or infection can cause a burning feeling in the neck. The conditions explained below are the most common causes for burning neck pain.
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According to Omoigui (2007) all pain arises from inflammatory responses, even burning neck pain. The inflammatory profile responsible for the pain experienced varies between individuals and at different times within the same individual. Cytokines, neuropeptides, and neurotransmitters are some of the biochemical mediators of inflammatory actions and it is on these that analgesics aim to work to reduce and relieve pain, whether it is burning neck pain, sharp neck pain, a dull ache, or a chronic discomforts.
Allergic Response to Medication
In some cases an acute allergic reaction to medication has occured in patients being treated with either cetuximab for cancer (Beydoun, 2010) or carbamazepine, an anticonvulsant used in the treatment of herpes (Garcia, 2010). One of the symptoms of these allergic responses is burning pain, experienced in the neck, thoracic region and then spreading to the rest of the body. Whilst this is unlikely to occur in most people it is extremely serious, and if a patient using these medications experiences burning neck pain they should immediately seek medical advice.
Motor vehicle collisions causing whiplash can lead to burning neck pain. Commonly this does not appear right away after the accident, but can take twenty-four hours or so to develop. The pain can be due to the spinal accessory nerve become trapped and compressed under the trapezius muscle.
A study by Nystrom (2010) found that anaesthetic injections into the muscles and trigger points for chronic whiplash sufferers could provide significant temporary relief from the burning neck pain and associated symptoms. The same study found that more permanent relief occurred with neurolysis (surgical excision) of the trigger points. Interestingly, this study found the same relief could be gained in those patients where electrodiagnostic and radiological assessment proved inconclusive as to the cause of the debilitating burning neck pain.
Spinal Stenosis and Burning Neck Pain
Kukurin (2004) documented a case where a woman involved in a car collision began to suffer burning neck pain and paraesthesia along her right side. The woman was diagnosed with cervical spinal stenosis and treated using chiropractic methods with a successful outcome in terms of pain reduction. Grgic (2010) reported similar pain-relieving effects from manual therapy in a woman suffering from trigeminal neuralgia and burning pain in the neck.
Cervical spinal stenosis as an underlying condition can make people more susceptible to types of neck pain associate with symptoms such as burning neck pain, headaches, shoulder and arm pain, and back pain after acute trauma. It is also a condition that can cause these symptoms without acute trauma as the reduced foramina in the spine causes nerve root compression and associated paraesthesia.
Brachial Plexus Injuries
Athletes and non-athletes alike can suffer trauma to the brachial plexus, a complex network of nerves originating from the fifth to the eighth cervical spinal nerves (C5-C8) and the first thoracic spinal nerve (T1). Damage to this area is usually a result of trauma, and can occur during a difficult childbirth if an infant’s shoulder becomes stuck. In rare circumstances inflammation of the brachial plexus can occur without obvious trauma, such as in Parsonage-Turner Syndorme.
Symptoms of brachial plexus injuries include burning neck pain, shoulder pain, weakness and numbness in the upper limbs, and arm pain (Olson, 2007). Using correct protective equipment when playing sports can help minimize the risk of this kind of injury, as can proper rest if trauma does occur to the area.
Neuropathy and Leprosy
Although now fairly rare in the Western world, leprosy is a condition which can lead to burning pain in the neck and throughout the body (Neopane, 2003). In a study conducted in India on leprosy patients, 57.5% of them reported burning pain in the upper extremities, neck and chest as one of their symptoms alongside dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath, and palpitation (Neopane, 2003). Burning pain was the main reason (35%) that they suffered disturbed sleep.
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
This syndrome usually occurs in a limb, but has been documented in the face, head, and neck in a small number of cases. The main symptoms are burning neck pain, hyperalgaesia, and hyperaesthesia, which begin after some kind of trauma to the head, face, or skull (Melis, 2002). This syndrome does not usually present outward visual signs of dysfunction and is treated preferentially with nerve blocking anesthetics by most physicians.
There are many reasons for burning neck pain, some acute, some chronic. Establishing the pain’s aetiology as quickly as possible will give the best outcome as some causes can be extremely serious and even life-threatening. In the majority of cases, however, the likelihood is that acute trauma has caused minor nerve damage and the body simply needs rest and good nutrition in order to heal itself.
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Last Updated: 10/01/2011