Chronic Neck Pain

Chronic neck pain is commonly defined as pain in the neck continuing more than 3-6 months and unlike acute neck pain which may simply disappear with adequate rest or corrective treatment, in some cases, however, it can persist, with chronic neck pain being a common problem for many people. Chronic pain can occur in certain conditions, such as:

The Cause of Chronic Neck Pain

It is important to establish the cause of chronic neck pain as it may indicate an underlying systemic and degenerative condition which can be treated or alleviated through medication, physical therapy, or neck surgery. Frequently, chronic pain is due to poor posture and can be relieved by re-educating the body to sit or stand correctly in order to relieve pressure on the spine. Neck pain in children can be due to a number of reasons, a common cause being an ill-fitting and heavy backpack.

Chronic neck pain may be related to muscular tension, either through poor posture, stress, working or sleeping in a cold draught, or through nutrients deficiencies or problems of nutrient metabolism. Having an imbalance of calcium and magnesium in the body can cause muscles to remain contracted without relief, as is experienced in cramp. Muscles may also go into spasm causing chronic pain. Any inflammation of the muscles is likely to put pressure on the nerves and blood vessels in the neck, with radicular or referred pain possible and paraesthesia also occurring.

Chronic Pain Subsyndromes

Chronic neck pain may also lead to headache, referred pain, loss of mobility, stiff neck, and problems with concentration, mood, and energy levels. Sufferers of chronic pain may become anxious, and depressed, as they worry about exacerbating, or re-triggering, the pain. Worries also surround the ability to cope with chronic neck pain, and the often long and arduous process of ascertaining its cause. Old injuries may cause chronic pain, with wear and tear on the joints in the cervical spine contributing to the problem; osteophyte growth can also cause cervical spinal stenosis and lead to chronic neck pain. In conditions of chronic pain it is important to acknowledge any changes in the severity or location of the pain as this may indicate a progression in the condition and necessitate medical assistance.

Chronic Neck Pain Treatments

Sufferers of chronic neck pain are usually offered a range of treatments, depending on the pathology of the pain. Analgesics and anti-inflammatory medications are a central part of pain relief. NSAIDs can provide benefits to improve mobility and quality of life. Other sufferers may choose to use alternative remedies to alleviate chronic neck pain, such as devil’s claw, magnesium oil, methylsulphonylmethane (MSM), or fish oils. Massage therapy can help relieve muscle tension, as can acupuncture, acupressure, neck pain relief devices, and hot/cold compresses. If a structural defect is at the center of the neck pain then the patient may have cervical traction performed, or a surgical procedure to decompress the structures of the neck, fix a bulging or herniated disc, or remove scar tissue. Selective nerve root blocks may be used both to ascertain the exact location of the pain’s origins, and to provide temporary relief from chronic neck pain. Semi-permanent radiofrequency neurotomy is another option for some patients, which can prevent the problem nerves from transmitting their pain signals. Discussing therapeutic options with a health care professional is important to find an effective treatment for pain management in those suffering chronic neck pain.

Last Updated: 10/10/2010