“If you have to deal with chronic neck pain, it can be a real struggle. I know… because I’ve had to do it myself,” states Dr. Nathan Wei, a board-certified rheumatologist and Clinical Director of The Arthritis and Osteoporosis Center of Maryland.
How arthritis causes neck pain…
The neck is an interesting structure. It’s made up of 7 bones stacked on top of each other. Each is separated from each other in the front by fibrous cushions called discs, and from each other in the back by special joints called facet joints. “The maximum movement of the neck occurs between the 4th and 6th cervical vertebrae…and this is where the most wear and tear in arthritis is seen,” says Dr. Wei
Pain can come from anywhere!
Dr Wei adds, “… anything in the rear part of the brain can cause referred pain to the neck….This includes aneurysms, infections, and tumors….
Also, neck pain can be referred from the shoulder, the upper chest, or even the heart! …Problems in the soft tissues of the neck such as growths or tumors affecting the thyroid gland, esophagus (food pipe) or trachea (wind pipe) can also lead to neck pain
Injury to the muscles and ligaments (example= whiplash auto accident) can cause neck pain. Dr. Wei declares, “This is the type of problem I have had for many years. I’ve been rear-ended a few times and I have degenerative arthritis in the neck at the C5-6 level. Patients I have talked with agree with me when I report popping or grinding in the neck with movement. Other patients say it “feels like sand back there” when they move their head…”
Pain from whiplash can radiate up the back of the head and cause headache. It may also radiate into the shoulders or between the shoulder blades.
Dr. Wei also adds, “Some types of neck pain are dangerous. When neck problems are associated with pressure on the spinal cord, this is called myelopathy and is a neurosurgical emergency!”
What are the most effective treatments?
Treatment obviously depends on making the correct diagnosis. According to Dr. Wei, the goals of treatment are to relieve pain, improve range of motion, prevent weakening of muscles, and restore function. Among the common treatments are non-steroidal-anti-inflammatory medicines or NSAIDS, topical agents such as Myorx, soft neck collars, neck support pillows, and exercises. Dr. Wei firmly reminds us, “… evidence of instability or cord compression is a ticket to see the neurosurgeon stat…”