Understanding chronic neck pain

Chronic neck pain can be a debilitating condition.  We asked Micah Smith, MD, Ortho Northeast’s SpineONE, to explain some of the cervical issues he sees most often linked to patient soreness.

What issues pertaining to the muscles and bones create neck pain?
Some of the common musculoskeletal causes for discomfort include arthritis, muscle imbalance, muscle tension, and muscle weakness.

Which symptoms indicate there might be a cervical degenerative disc issue?
Arm pain, or numbness or tingling that runs down the arm.

When should a patient see a specialist?
All patients have different pain thresholds, so some will seek treatment in the form of medication early on, while others will endure the pain for months before they seek out diagnosis and/or treatment. Typically, it is best to seek out medical intervention if your pain persists for a week or more. Anything that starts as radiating pain down the arm or the back of the shoulder should be examined sooner rather than later.

How are neck conditions diagnosed?           
The physician will do a physical exam to check muscle strength, reflexes, etc., and take x-rays. If the patient is having symptoms of myelopathy (disease of the spinal cord) — balance issues, unsteadiness of the hands – then I will have them walk to see what their gait looks like.

What are the common treatment options?
If it is just generalized neck pain, some patients find relief by working with a pain management physician and treating the discomfort conservatively with physical therapy, medications, injections, home strengthening stretches, etc.

If the pain management team feels the patient is a surgical candidate, they will refer them to a spine surgeon. If we’ve exhausted all conservative treatments, including physical therapy, and the patient isn’t seeing improvement, the surgeon will generally order an MRI and develop next steps.


Want to learn more? Join Dr. Smith for a free lunch and learn session Thursday, August 24, 11:30 – 12:30, at the Parkview Ortho Hospital. Doors open at 11:15. Lunch is provided. Register soon, space is limited.



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