Can neck pain be a sign of something serious?

Up to 20 percent of the adults in the US experience some form of neck pain. There are a variety of things that can cause ongoing neck pain, most of which are related to musculoskeletal issues. The next most common causes are neurologic, meaning that they’re related to your nerve function. The last category is non-spinal, which includes things like infection and autoimmune disease. Can your neck pain be a sign that something serious is going on?

There are cases in which neck pain indicates a more serious disease. However, the vast majority of instances are not serious.

Your pain might be related to an injury in your spine. These are called cervical injuries. The cervical part of the spine is made up of the top vertebrae in your neck.

Musculoskeletal problems refer to any issue that occurs in the muscles or bones. These are most often muscle strains, which might happen because of poor posture, sleeping wrong, or otherwise having misaligned vertebrae.

The most common cause of neck pain is a muscle strain. If you experience regular pain in the neck, it’s worth making sure that your posture is good. You can also check to be sure that your pillow keeps your head aligned with the rest of your spine when you sleep.

Neck pain might also occur because of spondylosis. This is a condition that happens because of degeneration in the spine. It is most common with osteoarthritis, which tends to occur in older people. As you get older, the cartilage cushioning the bones begins to break down, leading to pain.

You might experience neck pain because of a pinched nerve. Pinched nerves often happen when you sleep. When this is the case, the pain will probably exist when you wake up and slowly subside over several days.

Degeneration of the discs in the spine can cause neck pain. This often happens after a whiplash injury or other injury to the neck.

There are many other less common conditions that lead to neck pain. Some may have other symptoms, while others might only present with pain.

When to Be Concerned

When your neck pain is related to a muscle injury, it will probably go away after a few days. The muscles just need time to heal. If your pain continues for multiple weeks at a time, it might be time to seek professional treatment.

Once your doctor has determined the cause of the pain, you can treat it. Most people will experience muscle or skeletal issues rather than anything dangerous. But it can be frustrating to have chronic pain in your neck, especially if there haven’t been many concrete answers about it.

Most neck pain resolves without needing a doctor’s help. These are the indicators that you should talk to your doctor:

  • The pain gets worse even after rest and time to heal.
  • The pain doesn’t go away after several weeks.
  • The pain radiates into your legs or arms.
  • You experience tingling feelings, numbness, or a headache.

If you develop serious neck pain after an injury like a car accident, you should be evaluated in the emergency room. You should also call emergency services if your pain comes with weakness in your leg or arm muscles, or if you develop a high fever. Neck pain with a fever is a sign of meningitis.

Meningitis is a serious infection of the central nervous system. It leads to inflammation of the spinal cord and brain. If it isn’t treated immediately, the complications can be life threatening. As serious conditions go, this is the one most commonly associated with neck pain. Neck pain is rarely related to meningitis, though.

The CDC says that a stiff neck, headache, and fever are the hallmark symptoms of meningitis. If you experience two of the symptoms at once, it’s important to see a doctor right away. The symptoms of the condition occur a few days after exposure. People might have symptoms that get worse very quickly, or they might have more gradual symptoms.

Treating meningitis early is necessary because of how fast the disease progresses. If you don’t get it treated soon enough, you could suffer from hearing loss or brain damage. The condition can also be fatal.

Most causes of neck pain are related to muscle and bone injury.

For people dealing with ongoing neck pain after an injury, physical therapy and chiropractic care may be part of the solution. Give us a call at 205-637-1363 to talk about your treatment options.

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