Neck Pain Diagnosis and Treatments

Diagnosing Neck Pain

Getting an accurate diagnosis of what’s behind your neck pain allows our doctors to provide the best neck pain treatment options. To reach that diagnosis, they’ll take you through a diagnostic process that could include the following:

  • Getting your medical history, including your current symptoms and any treatments you’ve tried before.
  • Going through a physical examination. Your spine doctor will look for issues such as limited range of movement, issues with balance, or muscle weakness.
  • Doing diagnostic testing. X-rays and other imaging may be done to give your spine specialist a view of the internal structures of your spine. This can help rule out concerns like tumors and infections and allow your doctor to see the soft tissue and any abnormalities that may be happening within the structure of the spine. This could include herniated, ruptured, or bulging discs.

Neck Pain Treatment Options

Non-Operative Treatment

Conservative neck pain treatments are usually suggested for up to two months and may include:

  • Pain medications, including anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxers, and (on rare occasions) narcotic painkillers.
  • Alternating hot/cold compress therapy for 24 to 48 hours.
  • Physical therapy exercises to stretch, massage, and strengthen the muscles.
  • Epidural steroid injections to reduce inflammation and to potentially help the doctor pinpoint the cause of your neck pain.

Pain Management Procedures for Treatment Of Neck Pain

There is a number of least- or minimally-invasive pain treatment options that can help reduce or alleviate painful symptoms in the neck, shoulder, arms, and hands, including:

  • Cervical Epidural Steroid Injection – These injections can help reduce the inflammation in the spinal cord and alleviate pain. They can also help the spinal doctor diagnose the source of the pain.
    Cervical Epidural Steroid Injection – Learn More
  • Cervical Facet Radiofrequency Ablation – This neck pain treatment is useful for those suffering from pain or spasms in their shoulders, too. The spine specialist uses radiofrequency thermal energy to ablate the nerve that’s causing the pain. This is useful for precisely targeting pain.
    Cervical Facet Radiofrequency Ablation – Learn More
  • Triggerpoint Injection – These injections target areas in order to relieve spasms and inflamed areas of the shoulders and upper back.
    Triggerpoint Injection – Learn More

Recovery: What Patients Can Expect After Treatment

When you work with the team at Spine Institute of North America, we attempt to use conservative, non-operative treatment plans first and foremost. The majority of pain symptoms in the neck resolve in a matter of weeks using these methods. However, when they don’t work, we may need to resort to a pain management procedure that’s least- or minimally invasive. Each of these has a high success rate among our patients. However, each has a slightly different recovery experience.

Recovery After Cervical Epidural Steroid Injection

Although this procedure lasts only about 30 minutes, you may need to wait for about 45 minutes before going home. After the injection, patients should not drive. Also, strenuous activities are not recommended for at least a few days after the procedure, but you can return to work the day after. You may experience some side effects after the cervical epidural steroid injection, including:

  • Partial numbness for a few hours
  • Increased pain for a few days before the steroid has a chance to work

Some patients begin feeling the pain-relieving effects of the injection after just five days while others see relief in ten days. Fifty percent of patients see positive results from the cervical epidural steroid injection. The long-term effects of this procedure vary from person to person but generally last for a reasonably long time.

Recovery After Trigger Point Injection

This procedure requires very little recovery time. Although some patients experience slight pain that lasts a few seconds to a few minutes, most can return to work the same day, though it’s recommended that you don’t drive for 24 hours after the procedure. Slight discomfort, numbness and bruising are common side effects. There are a few rarer side effects, such as low-grade fever, increased heart rate and abdominal cramping, among others.

Trigger point injections have a success rate of about 50 to 70 percent. The medications used in the injection stay active in your system for approximately a month.

Recovery After Cervical Facet Radiofrequency Ablation

Cervical facet radiofrequency ablation is a short procedure, usually taking only 30 to 90 minutes. After the treatment is complete, patients shouldn’t drive themselves, operate heavy machinery or participate in any strenuous activity for 24 hours. However, most patients return to work the following day. There may be a few side effects experienced, like soreness, muscle spasms and a slight burning sensation near the treated area, but these generally resolve in a few days.

It may take a week or two to begin experiencing the effects of the procedure, and full results are not generally reached for four weeks. Thirty to 50 percent of the patients who undergo cervical facet radiofrequency ablation have long-term pain relief for over a year. Of the remaining patients, half receive pain-relieving benefits for a shorter amount of time. The average length that patients experience the full effects of this procedure is six months to a year.

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