What is cervicalgia?

Cervicalgia is commonly known as neck pain. This discomfort can be caused by muscle strain, poor posture, injuries or other underlying medical conditions. If you're living with cervicalgia, you will typically experience aching, stiffness and limited mobility in your neck.

Managing cervicalgia typically includes a combination of rest, physical therapy, pain relievers and lifestyle adjustments. In some cases, surgery may be required. While neck pain is generally temporary, it's crucial to consult a doctor for evaluation. This ensures treatment of underlying issues and tailored care plans to find relief.

Cervicalgia symptoms

Cervicalgia, or neck pain, encompasses a range of symptoms that can affect your daily life and well-being:

  • Neck pain
  • Tension
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Headaches

Neck pain causes

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Neck pain can disrupt your daily life and impact your mobility. Understanding the underlying causes of your discomfort is essential for effective treatment and relief. Neck pain can come from various sources, ranging from muscle tension and strain to injury.

Muscle tension and strain

Long periods of poor posture, often due to desk work or extended phone use, can strain your neck muscles. Sedentary lifestyles, excessive use of electronic devices and poor ergonomics can also contribute to neck pain. Slouching while using a computer, frequently looking down at a smartphone or sitting for prolonged periods can put stress on your neck. Additionally, emotional stress can cause muscle tension and neck pain.

Injury

Accidents and sports-related injuries are frequent causes of neck pain. Whiplash results from an abrupt forward and backward movement of the neck and is commonly experienced after a car accident. Impact injuries, such as falling while playing sports, can lead to strains or fractures in the neck. Proper diagnosis and early treatment are crucial for recovery in these cases.

Degenerative conditions

As we age, our necks may experience degenerative changes. Conditions like osteoarthritis and cervical spondylosis lead to the gradual breakdown of cartilage in the neck's joints. This wear and tear can result in neck pain and reduced mobility. Treating these conditions involves a combination of pain management, lifestyle adjustments and physical therapy.

Herniated discs

A herniated or bulging disc in the cervical spine can compress nearby nerves, leading to neck pain and radiating symptoms down the arms. This condition often requires medical intervention. Treatment can include physical therapy, pain management, and, in severe cases, surgery to relieve the pressure on the nerves.

Pinched nerves

Structural issues like bone spurs, herniated discs or spinal stenosis can lead to pinched nerves in the neck, causing radiating pain, tingling, numbness and weakness in the arms. Treatments often involve addressing the underlying structural issues and physical therapy to restore nerve function.

Referred pain

Referred pain occurs when you sense discomfort in a location other than where the problem occurs. For example, individuals might feel neck pain due to issues in neighboring areas like the shoulders, upper back or jaw. Conditions such as shoulder bursitis or temporomandibular joint disorders can cause referred neck pain.

Conditions related to cervicalgia

Neck pain, or cervicalgia, can stem from a variety of underlying conditions, each with its own set of causes and symptoms. Understanding these related conditions is crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective management. Some of the conditions often associated with cervicalgia include:

Cervical Spondylosis

Cervical spondylosis is a degenerative condition of the cervical spine that primarily affects older adults. It involves the wear and tear of spinal discs and bones, leading to neck pain and stiffness.


Herniated Disc

A herniated disc occurs when the soft inner core of a spinal disc protrudes through the tough outer layer, often compressing nearby nerves and causing neck pain.



Meningitis

Meningitis is an inflammation of the protective membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Neck pain can be a symptom of this serious condition and is usually accompanied by other concerning signs like fever and headaches.

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a condition where the spinal canal narrows, which leads to compression of the spinal cord and nerves. This condition can result in neck pain and radiating symptoms into the arms or legs.

Arthritis

Arthritis, particularly rheumatoid arthritis, can impact the cervical spine and cause neck pain. Understanding the connection between arthritis and cervicalgia is essential for those affected.

Cancer

Head and neck cancer can be associated with neck pain, along with other symptoms. Early detection and prompt treatment are crucial in managing cancer-related cervicalgia.

Neck pain diagnosis

When diagnosing the cause of neck pain, your doctor will define the underlying causes and create a tailored treatment plan for you. The diagnostic process may include:

  • Medical history

    Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms, medical background and any factors that may contribute to your neck pain. Details about your pain's onset, duration and characteristics are essential for an accurate diagnosis.

  • Physical exam

    Your healthcare provider will assess your neck's range of motion, tenderness and muscle weakness or imbalance. This examination provides valuable insights into the nature of your neck pain.

  • Neurological exam

    A neurological examination may include specific tests such as the Spurling test and Lhermitte's sign. These assessments help evaluate nerve function and identify any potential nerve-related issues.

  • Imaging

    Various imaging techniques may be employed to visualize the neck and surrounding structures:

    • CT (Computed Tomography): CT scans create detailed cross-sectional images of the neck, which can reveal structural abnormalities.
    • Electromyography (EMG): EMG assesses the electrical activity of muscles and nerves to diagnose any nerve-related conditions.
    • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): MRIs provide high-resolution images of soft tissues to help identify issues with discs, nerves and muscles.
    • X-ray: X-rays provide a view of the bones in your neck to identify fractures, dislocations or degenerative changes.
  • Blood tests

    In some cases, blood tests may be conducted to rule out systemic issues that could contribute to neck pain.

  • Neck pain differential diagnosis

    Neck pain can sometimes mimic other conditions. A comprehensive evaluation may consider differential diagnoses, such as gallbladder attacks, heart attacks (with an electrocardiogram or ECG) or conditions like fibromyalgia.

Neck pain treatment

​​​​​​​​​​​​​There are a range of neck pain treatment options available, each tailored to what is causing your symptoms and your individual needs.

Ice and heat therapy

Ice and heat therapy can be a simple yet effective way to manage neck pain. Applying ice reduces inflammation and provides relief, while heat helps relax tense muscles. The choice between ice and heat depends on your pain; your doctor can guide you on the best approach.

Medications

Medications to treat neck pain typically include:

  • Neuromodulatory medications: These may be recommended by your healthcare provider for radicular pain.
  • NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs): NSAIDs like ibuprofen can reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Steroid injections: For more severe pain, steroid injections may be recommended to reduce inflammation and provide targeted relief.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy plays a pivotal role in rehabilitating neck pain. You’ll get the support you need from skilled physical therapists who design personalized exercise programs to strengthen your neck and shoulder muscles for improved motion and posture.

Integrative medicine

Integrative medicine approaches neck pain holistically and combines conventional medical care with complementary therapies such as acupuncture, massage and mindfulness techniques.

Surgery

In cases where non-surgical treatments are ineffective or when the underlying issues require more invasive intervention, surgical procedures may be considered. These may include:

  • Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF): ACDF removes the damaged disc in the neck and fuses adjacent vertebrae to offer support and pain relief.
  • Artificial Disc Replacement (ADR): ADR is a surgical option for replacing a damaged disc with an artificial one.
  • Posterior Cervical Decompression and Fusion: This surgery helps with spinal cord issues in the neck. It includes taking out part of the bone (a procedure known as a laminectomy) to make more room. Sometimes, your surgeon may also perform a fusion to add stability and protect the spinal cord, ensuring the neck spine stays aligned.
  • Posterior Cervical Foraminotomy: This procedure removes part of the vertebral bone to relieve nerve pressure.
  • Posterior Cervical Laminoplasty: In some instances, the spinal cord can be relieved by lifting the roof (lamina) of the spine. Unlike a fusion, this method preserves movement of the spinal cord.

Frequently asked questions

  • What could be the potential causes of neck pain after hitting your head?

    Neck pain after a head injury may result from muscle strain or whiplash-like motion. It's important to rule out serious issues like concussion or spine injury. If you have post-head injury neck pain, seek medical evaluation to rule out underlying concerns.

  • I’m experiencing neck pain and can’t turn my head – how can I find relief?

    To find relief, start with gentle neck stretches and a range of motion exercises recommended by a healthcare provider or physical therapist. Applying ice or heat can also help reduce pain and inflammation. If the pain persists or worsens, consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and personalized treatment plan.

  • How can I find relief from neck pain from sitting at a desk?

    Desk-related neck pain is common. To avoid neck pain from sitting at a desk, improve the ergonomics of your set up and posture and take breaks to stretch. Neck stretches, shoulder rolls and exercise can help. If the discomfort continues, consult a healthcare provider for further guidance.

  • Should I call my doctor if I experience neck pain in the morning that disappears throughout the day?

    Morning neck pain that improves during the day may be from your sleeping position or pillow. Experiment with different pillows or postures. If it continues or worsens, consult a doctor to rule out underlying causes.

  • What could be causing neck pain, nausea and a headache?

    Neck pain, nausea and headaches can have different causes, from tension to serious conditions like meningitis. If you have these symptoms, seek medical evaluation to pinpoint the cause and get treatment.

  • How can I find relief from neck pain that won't go away?

    If your neck pain persists despite home remedies, visit your primary care doctor or a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician. They can evaluate your condition and recommend appropriate treatments, including physical therapy, medications, or, in some cases, further diagnostic tests to identify underlying issues.

  • What causes neck pain that radiates to the shoulder?

    Neck pain spreading to the shoulder is often linked to nerve compression or cervical spine problems like herniated discs or pinched nerves. Medical assessment and imaging are crucial to pinpoint the cause and plan treatment.