5 Ways To Manage Chronic Neck Pain

Neck pain is one of the most common kinds of pain disorder faced by the general population; 34-43% of the population complains of neck pain at any given time. Patients often describe neck pain as a persistent ache that can burn and stab as well. Most people experience neck pain at some point in their lives with the symptoms going away with rest and pain medication. However, if your neck pain lasts for more than a few weeks, then it might be chronic and is likely to require treatment.

What causes chronic neck pain?

The most common cause of chronic neck pain is broadly characterized by —

Degenerative disc disease: The neck comprises of seven vertebral bones supported by muscles and tendons. Between these bones are gel-like cervical discs that cushion the vertebral bones and prevent them from rubbing against one another when the neck moves. With age, these shock-absorbing disks can lose hydration, wear out, and be unable to repair themselves. This condition is known as degenerative disc disease and can create associated problems such as:

Bone spurs: As the space between the vertebral bones narrows, stress is absorbed by bones and bony spurs can develop that can press on nerves.

Herniated disk: The cervical discs can also push out from between the bones and push on nerves. These conditions can cause pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness. This pain can get radiated all the way down to your arm.

How is chronic neck pain treated?

Treatments for chronic neck pain focus on three primary goals: reducing pain, increasing function, reducing dependence on healthcare.

The following are 5 ways to manage chronic neck pain:

1. Physical therapy: Chronic neck pain can be managed with physical therapy. This includes low-impact exercises to improve posture, mobility, and strengthen muscles that support your neck. Increasing the strength of the neck area and flexibility with aerobic exercises can help support the cervical spine better and reduce pain. Your doctor may also show you ways to move that put less stress on your neck.

Physical therapy treatment has benefits such as:
  • Identification of poor posture habits that may be contributing to pain and stress on the spine.
  • Strengthening of weak areas around the neck with targeted exercises.
  • Educating the patient about how to avoid the risk of reinjury.

2. Rest and pain medication: You may require medication management to deal with chronic neck pain. Your doctor may prescribe muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory pain medication to manage inflammation and relieve pain. To help rest your neck effectively, you may have to use a cervical collar or a neck brace to maintain your neck in the proper position for it to heal properly. The strength of the pain medication can be increased by your specialist in case of increasing pain. The focus, however, will be to slowly wean you off the pain medication with time.

3. Cognitive behavioural therapy: Dealing with chronic neck pain can be extremely taxing mentally. Treatments may also seem to provide results at a pace that may seem frustrating to you. A cognitive behavioural therapist may be able to help you by teaching you how to deal with these challenging circumstances with a more powerful mindset. With strategies that help you focus more on the positives and maintain focus on your treatment milestones, you might be better able to follow your treatment plan.

4. Spine surgery: Spine surgery is generally recommended for patients when they start having trouble walking, develop issues with balance, or develop pain in one or both arms. Common surgeries performed by surgeons to alleviate chronic neck pain-related conditions are fusion and decompression surgeries.

Fusion surgery: A surgery to join two vertebrae or more into a single structure to stop movement between the bones and prevent neck pain.

Decompression surgery: A surgery to reduce pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots to relieve chronic pain.

5. Manual therapy and meditation: Manual therapy involves a therapist manually massaging your neck and manipulating the area with their hands to provide relief. This may be combined with meditation to practise controlled breathing exercises and guided imagery that help the patient reduce pain and stress.

Chronic neck pain can be a debilitating problem and cause a considerable amount of time lost from work, and even disability. Stress and emotional issues can make dealing with chronic neck pain worse, but for most people, chronic neck pain can be treated with individualized treatment plans combining rest, physical therapy, and medication. Reach out to our specialists at the Department of Neurosurgery and Neuropsychiatry, Psychology and Counselling at the Brain and Spine Institute (Sagar Hospitals) for comprehensive care for your chronic neck pain.

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