Treating Neck Pain

If you are suffering from neck pain, you should see a doctor for treatment. The treatments for neck pain depend on which conditions are causing the pain. Neck pain can be caused by a variety of conditions, including whiplash injury, pulled muscles, a pinched nerve due to a herniated intervertebral disc or spinal stenosis, various types of infections, arthritis, osteoporosis, tumors and chronic pain conditions.

For a patient who has suffered a mild whiplash injury, treatment at home may be adequate. Whiplash is a type of injury that commonly results from being in a car accident; in whiplash, the neck ligaments and muscles in the neck are overstretched when the neck is whipped rapidly forward then backward due to impact forces. Home treatment may involve ice or heat applied to the injured neck, over-the-counter pain relievers and stretching exercises. Most cases of whiplash are mild and the injury heals on its own over a period of time. If your whiplash injury is more severe, however, your doctor may prescribe other medications or recommend physical therapy. Prescription drugs sometimes used for whiplash treatment include prescription painkiller medications, muscle relaxants, lidocaine injections and corticosteroid injections. A physical therapist can work with a whiplash patient to treat the injury with ice, heating pads or ultrasound treatment plus teach the patient stretching exercises to help rehabilitate the injury and try to restore a full range of motion of the neck. Cervical collars used to be a more common treatment for whiplash injury, but doctors now think that they may slow rehabilitation if they are relied on too much to immobilize the neck. They are now used for a few hours at a time or at night only.

Muscle strains are usually treated at home with over-the-counter pain relievers such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Ice packs can also help control the swelling. Be careful when applying ice to your neck area; do not leave the ice pack on the area for too long. Ten minutes every few hours is sufficient.

If neck pain is due to a pinched nerve caused by a herniated disc, prescription anti-inflammatory drugs may be given or over-the-counter medications may be recommended. Prescription pain killers or muscle relaxants may also be used to treat associated pain and muscle spasm, respectively. In some cases, oral doses of corticosteroids may be used on a short-term basis to decrease the amount of inflammation and pressure on the spinal nerve. Some drugs exist that have a positive effect on symptoms of neuropathy, including antidepressant medications and anti-seizure medications. Physical therapy may also be recommended for herniated disc treatment in the cervical region. Treatments for spinal stenosis are similar; this condition can also cause a pinched spinal nerve in the neck region. Both spinal stenosis and herniated intervertebral discs may require surgery, but surgery is always the treatment of last resort. Surgical procedures can involve fusing of the vertebrae together or removing parts of the vertebrae or intervertebral discs to relieve pressure on the spinal nerves and reduce pain.

There are several types of infections that can cause neck pain. Common infections like mononucleosis (mono) and strep throat can cause inflammation of the cervical lymph nodes and sore throat. There is no treatment to get rid of mono, because it is a viral infection, so treatment is symptomatic. Strep throat is easily treated with antibiotics, because the condition is caused by Streptococcus bacteria. If neck pain is caused by meningitis, getting treatment is extremely important because the condition can be life-threatening. The treatment for meningitis depends on which type of meningitis a person has: bacterial, viral or fungal. Viral meningitis can’t usually be treated unless the causative agent of the meningitis is a herpes virus, in which case there are medications that can slow viral replication. Viral meningitis tends to be less severe than the other types, and it is far less likely to cause death. Bacterial meningitis requires treatment with antibiotics intravenously. More than one antibiotic may be used at a time; the antibiotics chosen depend on the type of bacteria present, as different bacteria are more susceptible to different types of antibiotic medications. Anti-inflammatory medications may also be given intravenously to control inflammation of the meninges. Fungal meningitis can be treated with anti-fungal medications, but these medications often have severe side effects. Sometimes meningitis can be due to an autoimmune response, in which case anti-inflammatory medications alone are given.

Vertebral fractures due to osteoporosis are not usually treated surgically; surgery is more often a preventative reinforcement measure for vertebral fractures. Osteoporosis is usually treated with a combination of medication, supplemental calcium and exercise. Pain caused by vertebral fractures may be treated with pain medication. Tumors in the neck area are usually biopsied to determine if they are benign or malignant and then treatment progresses from that point; surgical removal is often but not always necessary. Treatment of fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions is often complicated. A combination of medications and therapy is often used for pain management of neuromuscular pain conditions.


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