Nobody likes a pain in the neck…literally.
Neck pain often radiates to the head, jaw and upper extremities including the shoulders and arms. In some cases, it may simply be the result of a muscle spasm (“a crick in the neck”). But sometimes it occurs as a result of nerve inflammation and irritation in the cervical (neck) joints of the spine. This is referred to as cervical radiculopathy.
For muscle strains, the best treatment options are the tried-and-true remedies of over-the-counter painkillers, heat/ice therapy and improved posture (while awake and sleeping). In some cases, a physical therapist can suggest neck-strengthening exercises to prevent a recurrence.
But for patients with neck pain due to nerve irritation from herniated disks or bone spurs that develop as a result of spinal degeneration and osteoarthritis, there are options for long-term pain relief.
Neck pain that lasts for more than a few days should not be ignored. If the pain is due to cervical radiculopathy, the patient may also have numbness, weakness or tingling in the hands, fingers and arms. Left untreated, this can lead to other complications, including total loss of function in the affected extremities.
The good news is that there are several minimally invasive non-surgical options for neck pain, including:
Cervical Epidural Steroid Injections have proven to be a safe and effective pain relief treatment for nearly 70 years. Thanks to advances in fluoroscopy (x-ray) guidance, physicians can inject anti-inflammatory medication to the exact source of the patient’s pain with the utmost precision. Performed as an out-patient procedure under local (or intravenous) anesthetic, the injection targets the irritated nerves that are causing the pain. When the inflammation decreases, so does the patient’s pain. This aids in long-term healing and recovery.
Some patients experience immediate relief, while others may experience relief over the course of a few days. Depending on the severity of the patient’s cervical radiculopathy, additional injections may be needed over the course of several months. Physical therapy may also be ordered to strengthen muscles that have been weakened by the condition.
Cervical Facet Joint Nerve Blocks address pain radiating from the facet joints that are located on the side of each vertebra in the neck and back. When there is an injury or inflammation to these joints, neighboring nerves can become irritated and cause pain.
Cervical facet joint nerve blocks provide a multi-layered approach to pain management. An initial injection delivers numbing medicine into the facet joint. If there is immediate pain relief, the physician can verify the facet joint as the source of the patient’s pain. Then long-lasting cortisone is injected into these joints to reduce inflammation for sustained pain relief.
Pain medicine specialists are trained in these procedures and may recommend other complementary therapies, including physical therapy, massage and chiropractic, to help their patients achieve sustained relief of their neck pain.
Dr. Skaribas is fellowship-trained and double board certified in Pain Medicine and Anesthesiology. He has extensive experience in using fluoroscopic (x-ray) guidance to direct epidural steroid injections and nerve blocks to the source of chronic neck pain.