Understanding Causes of Neck Pain

June 16, 2021 – 2 min read

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Understanding Causes of Neck Pain

Neck pain is a common condition that can have many different causes. Pain often starts in the neck and radiates down one or both arms. Because the causes of neck pain can originate from any of the tissues, joints, ligaments, muscles, bones or nerves in the neck, getting a proper diagnosis is important to determine the right treatment.

Common Causes of Neck Pain

Neck pain can stem from chronic wear and tear, injury or underlying disease. Some common causes include:

  • Arthritis
  • Muscle strain
  • Muscle inflammation
  • Neck injury
  • Poor posture

Things like injuries, poor posture and arthritis can cause the bones or joints in the cervical spine, the neck area of the backbone, to break down. This can lead to a herniated disc, which happens when a disc that cushions the vertebrae becomes damaged and puts pressure on the surrounding nerves and spine. Bone spurs, pointy growths off of bones, can also occur. Both conditions can cause spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal that puts pressure on nerve roots.

In addition to neck pain, pressure on nerve roots can lead to:

  • Pain, numbness and weakness in the arm
  • Tingling of fingers or hands
  • Problems with balance and gait

Diagnosing Neck Pain

If neck pain is the result of a head injury or accompanied by numbness, stiff neck, fever or weakness, your physician might also consult a neurologist when making a diagnosis and creating a treatment plan. Advanced imaging tools are available at American Health Imaging to help diagnose the source of your pain.

  • Vertebral motion analysis (VMA): A VMA creates a video X-ray of your spine in motion. This breakthrough technology allows the radiologist to watch the movement of your spine in real time and zero in on the source of pain.
  • Cervical spine MRI: An MRI creates cross-sectional pictures of the soft tissues in your neck. A single MRI produces hundreds of images.
  • CT scan: People who are unable to have an MRI or a VMA can have a CT scan to help diagnose their pain.

Treatment for Neck Pain

After the source of your neck pain is determined, your physician will create a treatment plan. Usually, neck pain can be treated with nonsurgical options, such as:

  • Pain medication and anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Wearing a cervical collar to alleviate pain and pressure on the spine and reduce mobility
  • Steroid injections
  • Limiting physical activity

If these options don’t bring improvement or the condition worsens, surgery might be an option for some patients based on the cause of the pain, as well as the patient’s age and overall health. Possible options include artificial cervical disc surgery, in which damaged discs are replaced, or spinal fusion surgery, in which screws or plates are used to fuse the vertebrae and strengthen the cervical spine.

Vertebral motion analysis (VMA) is available at American Health Imaging’s San Antonio and Atlanta locations. Contact us for more information.