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Common Neck Pain Questions ?

I woke up with neck pain. What can I do?

Daily life (and night life) can take its toll on your neck. You may have slept wrong last night, causing your neck muscles to tighten. The best thing to do is give your body time to heal on its own. To get through the day without letting the pain interfere with your normal activities, you have a few options:

  • Gently stretch your neck.
  • Take over-the-counter pain medications, such as Tylenol or Advil.
  • Alternate between heat and ice treatments on your neck: 20 minutes of heat followed by 20 minutes of ice should help the pain and the healing process.

Will I need surgery?

Most patients with neck pain respond well to non-surgical treatments (such as medication), so cervical spine surgery is seldom needed to treat it. In fact, less than 5% of neck pain patients need surgery. However, there are situations when you may want to go ahead with spine surgery:

  • Non-surgical treatment is not helping—that is, you've tried a combination of chiropractic care, physical therapy, medication, massage, exercises, and more, and you're still in pain.
  • You experience progressive neurological symptoms (numbness, tingling, weakness) involving your arms and legs.
  • You're having trouble with balance or walking.
  • You are otherwise in good health.
    Generally, surgery is done for degenerative disc disease, trauma, or spinal instability. These conditions may put pressure on your spinal cord or on the nerves coming from the spine.

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What kinds of surgery are used for neck pain?

Typically, surgeons use two surgical techniques for cervical spine surgery:
  • Decompression, where they remove tissue pressing against a nerve structure
  • Stabilization, where they work to limit motion between vertebrae

There are various forms of decompression surgery, and your surgeon will determine what's best for your condition.

Stabilization surgery is sometimes—but not always—done at the same time as a decompression surgery. In some forms of decompression surgery, the surgeon may need to remove a large portion of the vertebra or vertebrae. That results in an unstable spine, meaning that it moves in abnormal ways, and that puts you more at risk for serious neurological injury. In that case, the surgeon will restabilize the spine. Commonly, this is done with a fusion and spinal instrumentation. Recently, surgeons have begun using artificial cervical discs instead of fusion and spinal instrumentation. Again, you surgeon will determine what's best for your condition.

For more information, you can read Surgery for Neck Pain.

What are some non-surgical options for treating my neck pain?

Less than 5% of neck pain patients will need surgery, and there are a lot of options for you to try before surgery. You can try:

  • Acupuncture, herbal remedies, massage, yoga, and Pilates
    For more information, you can read Alternative Treatments for Neck Pain: Acupuncture, Herbal Remedies, Massage, Yoga, and Pilates.
  • Chiropractic care
    For more information, you can read Chiropractic Treatment for Neck Pain.
  • Medication
    For more information, you can read Drugs, Medications, and Spinal Injections to Relieve Neck Pain.
  • Physical therapy
    For more information, you can read Physical Therapy to Relieve Neck Pain.

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This information is not designed to replace a physician's independent judgment about the appropriateness or risks of a procedure for a given patient.
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