Chronic Neck Pain: When Is It Time to See a Doctor?

chronic pain

 

BY HOWARD  LUBIN

THIS IS JUST A SMALL SNIPPET OF THE HELL I WENT THROUGH…

I remember it like it was yesterday, even though it was 15 years ago…

Every time my heart beat, the back of my head and my neck throbbed. Damn, it took so long to fall asleep and now I’m up again.

Then the cold sweat started…I realized I had to work today and get up in a couple of hours.

What to do?? I could take a hot shower…that usually helps…but I didn’t feel like getting up at 4 a.m. So I took a pain pill and stared at the dark ceiling for what seemed like forever until the pain started to go away.

The whole time I kept wondering to myself… is today the day when I won’t make it? Will I have to reschedule my patients? After all, patients don’t appreciate their dentist canceling out on them…

Ok, maybe you’re not this bad. Or, maybe you are. Maybe you’re not this bad but worried that you’re heading in my direction.

A LOOK AT BUSTED PAIN THEORIES

Chronic neck pain matters. It causes chronic work absenteeism and may even shorten lives according to a recent Swedish study.

There is a theory out there that neck pain is related to abnormal cervical spinal curvature. This half-baked idea does not hold up to the scrutiny of recent research. Many MRI’s and CT scans are done to diagnose neck pain. These scans often show abnormal spacing of cervical disks or herniation/bulging discs. Doctors and surgeons point to these abnormalities as the cause of your pain. They may recommend surgery to correct the problem. More often than not, there is NO RELATIONSHIP between the pain and what you see on a scan of your neck.

In my case, my surgeon saw a narrowing of the C4 – C5 space and recommended fusion of the discs to solve the problem. It didn’t work (in fact, it made the pain worse). At a follow up visit, the surgeon looked me right in the eyes and said “pain is a lousy reason to do surgery!” So why did he do it in the first place? I was ready to strangle the guy…

Disc herniation in lumbar region

NECK PAIN CAUSES

The neck supports the weight of the head, which can weigh 10 pounds or more. Although the head should be centered over the spine when we sit or stand upright, countless activities—such as sitting at a computer, reading, watching television or eating—cause people to slump, rounding their upper back and tilting their head forward. This posture can lead to muscle strain or spasm in the neck. Muscle strain or spasm can also arise from constantly looking over or under one’s glasses, having poor sleeping posture or taking extended car trips. General wear and tear from everyday activities and normal aging can cause changes in the disks of the neck that lead to pain and stiffness.

For example, herniation of the intervertebral disks in the neck can decrease the space through which nerves exit the spinal canal, leading to pinched nerves and consequent pain. Bony outgrowths on the vertebrae (osteophytes) also can pinch nerves. Spinal stenosis can put pressure on the spinal cord, causing pain or paralysis.

Most people with neck pain do not have a herniated disk, osteophytes or a disease that affects the spinal cord. Typically, it is the result of muscle strain or spasm.

On occasion, neck pain results from acceleration/deceleration injuries, commonly known as whiplash. It can also stem from serious problems like arthritis or cancer or from problems that originate in other areas of the body such as the shoulder. Chronic neck pain that is not associated with any physical problem may result from associated stress or depression.

Most cases of neck pain get better on their own. If neck pain is linked to a recent recreational or work-related activity, the pain will likely decrease within two weeks, and treatment from a doctor is usually unnecessary.

YOU HAVE THE ABILITY TO DIAGNOSE YOURSELF

You do have the ability to make a self-diagnosis. Several Terms to be familiar with are:

Aching: The most common pain. It is dull, continuous, that is mild to moderate in nature. It comes on slowly and can last from one day to many years. It usually indicates that muscles have been subjected to a buildup of microtears. Sometimes, aching is caused by chemical irritation of the nerves. For example, weight lifting causes overuse of a muscle which leads to lactic acid production. The lactic acid irritates the nerve endings and causes an aching.

Burning: this comes on quickly and is more severe than a general ache. When muscles are deprived of blood flow they can not carry away normal metabolic waste products. The result is burning, which normally occurs when you push your muscles to extremes that they are not accustomed to or prepared for. Once you stop the activity, the burning usually subsides.

Cramping: is the sudden and very painful contraction of a muscle (a “Charley Horse”). It usually does not last for very long. Of aching, burning and cramping, the cramping is most difficult to ignore.  Either stretching or massaging will generally alleviate it.

Now, for the tests. It’s time to take the following tests to ensure that your analysis is complete. If you are not clear about the results, please consult a trusted health professional for further assistance.

CHRONIC MUSCULOSKELETAL PAIN TEST

  1. Is the pain described as one or more of the ABC’s (Aching, Burning, Cramping)?
  2. Does movement or certain positions cause the pain?
  3. Did the pain come on gradually?
  4. Has there been pain in this area before?
  5. If you try to apply resistance to the painful area (like pushing against it or forcing the muscle to contract), does the pain increase?
  6. When you move the painful area,, is it noisy (like clicking, popping, or grinding)?
  7. Do you have a limited amount of movement in the painful area?

If you answered “Yes” to one or more of these questions, it is very likely that your pain is musculoskeletal in nature and can be treated with natural remedies. The more “Yeses” you answered to the questions, the more certain your self-diagnosis is.

NON-CHRONIC MUSCULOSKELETAL PAIN TEST

This is an important diagnostic tool to ensure you are not suffering from a disease that affects your muscles and joints.

  1. Does your pain fall outside the scope of the ABC’s (Aching, Burning, Cramping)?
  2. Did the pain occur suddenly without any relationship to action or position?
  3. Without some kind of trauma, injury or prior pain in the area, is the pain severe?
  4. Is the pain continuous and fairly steady?
  5. Does the pain awaken you in the middle of the night?
  6. Is doing even simple tasks more difficult now, even if the pain is not present?
  7. Has the pain ever caused a reaction like vomiting or diarrhea?

If you answered “Yes” to one or more of these questions, you should consult your health professional as it may indicate that your pain falls outside the scope of natural treatments.

If your pain falls into the Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain category, I urge you to check out the site www.stopneckpainnaturally.com . You will find a wealth of information on drug-free ways to stop neck pain and regain control of your life.

P.S.:  I am offering a FREE Chronic Neck Pain Survival Guide to anyone that needs help. Just click here to get it.

P.P.S.: If you know of someone suffering with chronic neck pain that is at their wit’s end and could benefit from this information, please forward this article to them. We fellow neck pain suffers have to help each other. Thanks 🙂

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