Neck pain is a serious condition for many people. It can cause headaches, arm and upper back pain, even depression.
Dr. Scott Haldeman, clinical professor of neurology, University of California-Irvine, found in his study of neck pain that it is a widespread experience that is a persistent and recurrent condition for the majority of sufferers. Neck pain disables approximately 2 out of 20 people, which affects their ability to carry on with daily activities.
The study recommends that neck pain (including whiplash related pain) be classified and treated in a common 4-grade system:
- neck pain with little or no inference with daily activities
- neck pain that limits daily activities
- neck pain accompanied by radiculopathy (“pinched nerve” — pain weakness and/or numbness in the arm)
- neck pain with serious pathology, such as tumor, fracture, infection, or systemic disease.
Haldeman and his task force found that most neck pain falls into grades 1 or 2.
The task force also studied the association between chiropractic care of the neck and stroke. They found that patients who visit a chiropractor are no more likely to experience a stroke than are patients who visit a family physician. The type of stroke associated with chiropractic manipulation can be caused by ordinary neck movements like checking when backing up a car or by looking up at the sky.
The minority of those who experience grade 3 neck pain found that corticosteroid injections may provide temporary relief.
Surgery is a last resort and should be considered only if accompanied by arm pain that is persistent or if the person is experiencing grade 4 pain due to serious injury or systemic disease–according to researchers.
The researchers recommend:
- Stay as active as you can, exercise and reduce mental stress.
- Don’t expect to find a single “cause” for your neck pain.
- Be cautious of treatments that make “big” claims for relief of neck pain.
- Trying a variety of therapies or combinations of therapies may be needed to find relief.
- Once you have experienced neck pain, it may come back or remain persistent.
- Lengthy treatment is not associated with greater improvements; you should see improvement after 2-4 weeks, if the treatment is the right one for you.
- There is relatively little research on what does or does not prevent neck pain; ergonomics, cervical pillows, postural improvements etc. may or may not help.