Five Neck Pain Symptoms You Should See Your Doctor About

Five Neck Pain Symptoms You Should See Your Doctor About

Hunching over a computer for several hours, using the wrong pillow, or carrying a heavy bag over your shoulder can strain neck muscles and make it hard to turn your head.

These symptoms generally fade after a few days of home care. Sometimes, though, neck pain requires medical care.

The Yale Neurosurgery New London team, led by board-certified neurosurgeon Dr. Patrick Doherty, specializes in treating conditions that affect your back and neck. Here’s what they want you to know about neck pain and when it requires a specialist’s attention. 

First, always see a specialist sooner rather than later for neck pain after a car accident, fall, or other trauma. Otherwise, schedule an appointment for neck pain if you’re experiencing any of the following five symptoms.

1. It lasts longer than expected or prevents you from sleeping.

Neck pain related to temporary muscle strain typically peaks and then gradually fades over several days.

You can help speed the healing process by taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen, applying warm compresses to the neck region, and modifying your activities to rest neck muscles.

If your pain becomes persistent, worsens rather than improves, or at any point prevents you from resting, it’s time to check in with your cervical spine (neck) specialist.

Our Yale Neurosurgery New London team takes home care to the next level by designing a customized physical therapy program that addresses your current symptoms. Our strategies also improve flexibility and strength in your neck muscles and help correct habits that lead to neck pain.

2. You develop discomfort in your shoulders, arms, or hands.

Neck pain accompanied by burning or tingling discomfort that radiates (travels) into the shoulders, arms, or hands implies spinal nerve compression (radiculopathy).

Radiculopathy, often caused by age-related changes such as degenerative disc disease, usually responds to conservative treatment that includes oral medications, physical therapy, or injection-based therapy to reduce inflammation and soothe irritated nerves.

Should your symptoms progress or threaten your overall mobility, Dr. Doherty may recommend minimally invasive spine surgery such as discectomy or disc replacement to relieve pressure on the nerve.

Left untreated, conditions responsible for nerve compression can lead to decreased mobility and chronic pain that significantly disrupts your overall quality of life.

3. You develop symptoms of cervical spinal stenosis.

Narrowing of the cervical spinal canal (spinal stenosis) can result in radiculopathy. It also puts you at risk for compression of the spinal cord, which may lead to permanent disability.

Not every case is severe, but the potential problems are serious enough that cervical spinal stenosis requires treatment and routine monitoring to prevent complications.

Common causes of cervical spinal stenosis include herniated discs, bone spurs, and osteoarthritis.

Symptoms include:

As cervical spinal stenosis progresses, it can also cause bowel or bladder dysfunction. You may also develop weakness or numbness in the legs or feet, making walking difficult.

4. Your neck pain progresses or becomes persistent.

Neck pain that starts slowly and worsens over time is often related to changes in your cervical spine's vertebrae, discs, joints, or other structural components.

Herniated discs, facet joint arthritis, and vertebral abnormalities often respond well to early management with physical therapy and other conservative therapies. 

Should these measures fail, Dr. Doherty specializes in minimally invasive spine surgery, including robotic surgery, that uses smaller incisions and generally requires less recovery time than traditional or “open” surgery.

5. You develop headaches that don’t respond to traditional treatment.

Headaches are a common symptom of cervical spine disorders and are often misdiagnosed as tension-type headaches. If your headaches are not responding to conventional therapy, consider scheduling an appointment for further evaluation.

For more information about neck pain or any of our services, schedule an evaluation at Yale Neurosurgery New London by calling our New London, Connecticut, office.

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