When is Neck Pain a Sign of a Serious Medical Condition?

When is Neck Pain a Sign of a Serious Medical Condition?

There’s a good reason we call someone annoying a “pain in the neck.” It’s because neck pain is annoying, too, and without treatment, it can take a toll on your quality of life. 

Neck pain is also very common — it’s one the most common causes of musculoskeletal pain. That’s probably partly because neck pain can affect anyone at any age, and various issues can cause it.

You might think that because neck pain is so common, it’s no big deal, but neck pain can be very serious. If you ignore pain or treat it using “home remedies,” you could easily wind up with a more serious problem soon, along with a lot more pain.

A leading pain management specialist in Carmel, Kokomo, and Indianapolis, Indiana, Jonathan Gentile, MD, is skilled in diagnosing and treating neck pain, relying on numerous treatment options to ensure each patient receives optimal care. Here’s how to tell if your neck pain could have a serious cause and why seeking treatment for any neck pain is a wise idea.

Common causes of neck pain

Your neck is an amazingly flexible part of your body, able to move in many directions. But that’s not all it does: It achieves all those movements while supporting your head (which weighs about 10-11 pounds). 

To achieve that feat, bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels must work together. If any of those components is injured, irritated, or inflamed, you can wind up with neck pain.

Some of the most common causes of neck pain involve strain in your muscles or irritated nerves in your cervical spine (the part of your spine that makes up your neck). “Tech neck” is an example of neck pain caused by muscle strain, happening when you spend long hours bent over a computer or phone screen.

Other causes of neck pain include:

As you age, degenerative conditions become more likely, triggered by years of wear-and-tear on your cervical spine and the tissues and nerves around it.

How to tell if your neck pain is serious

One big problem with neck pain is your symptoms can feel pretty similar, whether the underlying cause is serious or not. Generally, any neck pain that lasts more than a couple days needs a medical evaluation. An evaluation can not only provide much-needed symptom relief, but it’s also essential for determining if the cause is getting worse and how to manage it to prevent future problems.

In addition to lingering pain, there are other times when it’s vital to seek medical care for neck pain. For instance:

Because your neck is such a complex and “crowded” structure, pain may involve other components, like nerves or blood vessels. Without prompt care, you could have a permanent disability and long-term pain. Other symptoms, like headache or fever, indicate a potential infection, which could spread to other parts of your body or even your brain.

Treating neck pain

Before recommending a treatment for your neck pain, Dr. Gentile performs a thorough exam, often including diagnostic imaging to evaluate your bones and other parts of your neck. When possible, he recommends conservative treatment options first, like:

If your neck pain is caused by a chronic or recurring problem, he may recommend surgery to fuse your neck, eliminate nerve impingement, or address other problems.

Take neck pain seriously

If you have neck pain, you might want to take a “wait-and-see” approach to see if your symptoms improve over time. But doing so can come with real risks to your long-term health and even lead to permanent nerve damage and disability. A neck pain evaluation doesn’t take long, but that small investment in time can yield big benefits for your health.

If you have neck pain, being evaluated early is important for your health and quality of life. To learn more about neck pain treatments at our practice, book an appointment online or over the phone with Dr. Gentile today.

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