Neck pain is typically divided into three categories:
- Acute neck pain lasts less than four weeks
- Sub-acute neck pain lasts four to twelve weeks
- Chronic neck pain lasts three or more months
Acute and sub-acute neck pain are typically caused by muscle strains and ligament sprains that occur because of neck overuse or injury. In contrast, chronic neck pain is typically caused by cervical disc or joint problems. The following are the three most common spine conditions that cause chronic neck pain:
Chronic Neck Pain Caused by A Herniated Cervical Disc
Cervical discs lie between adjacent cervical vertebrae. The discs act as “shock absorbers” that take pressure off the cervical vertebrae. Each disc is composed of a protective outer ring of cartilage and an inner jelly-like substance known as the nucleus. When aging processes or an injury cause the nucleus to push through the outer ring of cartilage, a disc is said to be herniated, slipped, or ruptured (all three terms are commonly used). Often times, a herniated disc protrudes into the spinal canal and pinches the spinal cord and/or nerve roots causing pain in the neck and/or extremities. When left untreated, pain caused by a herniated disc can become chronic.
Illustration 1- A normal disc vs. a herniated one
Chronic Neck Pain Caused by Cervical Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis refers to the wear and tear of cartilage and connective tissues of the musculoskeletal system. The causes of osteoarthritis are age and injury. Osteoarthritis that affects the neck (cervical osteoarthritis) can be painful and cause neck stiffness. If it’s not diagnosed and treated properly, cervical osteoarthritis can increase in severity and can cause chronic neck pain.
Chronic Neck Pain Caused by Spinal Stenosis
Although spinal stenosis is most common in the lumbar spine, it can occur in the cervical spine. The cervical vertebrae perfectly align to form a narrow canal that the spinal cord passes through. Each vertebra has tiny holes known as vertebral foramen that allow the spinal cord to leave the cervical canal and branch out to innervate the upper extremities.
Spinal stenosis occurs when the cervical canal or the cervical foramen become narrow and put pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots. The causes of spinal stenosis include degenerative disc disease, cervical osteoarthritis, and a herniated disc. Spinal stenosis that isn’t treated can increase in severity and put additional pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots, which can result in chronic neck pain
Don’t Delay a Diagnosis for Chronic Neck Pain
The key to avoiding chronic neck pain caused by the following conditions lies in early detection and treatment. If you’re experiencing neck pain that has lasted longer than a few weeks, don’t delay a diagnosis. Contact our NYC today to arrange an appointment. Our specialists will properly diagnosis and treat your condition. You can rest easy knowing that you’ll be in the best possible hands—a full, complete recovery is right around the corner.
Dr. Patrick Senatus is a Board Certified Neurosurgeon in New York City with extensive experience in Minimally Invasive and Restorative Spine Surgery. Dr. Senatus employs a personalized patient-centered approach that prioritizes optimum functional outcome and well-being. Each consultation begins with a comprehensive evaluation by Dr. Senatus designed to create an individualized evidence based treatment plan which includes the patient, family, and collaborating providers.