If you suffer from chronic neck pain but are reluctant to have surgery, there are non-surgical options that may reduce, even alleviate, your pain. Here, we explore five ways to overcome chronic neck pain without surgery, along with a bit of advice about choosing a physician if surgery is your only option.
First, let's explore some of the conditions that cause chronic neck pain. Understanding the underlying cause of your pain can help you approach non-surgical treatments better informed and may help you avoid further injury.
Common Causes of Neck Pain
Neck pain can result from many different conditions. The seven vertebrae that make up the cervical region of the spine are designed for a wide range of motion and flexibility, but the same characteristics that allow the neck a full range of motion also leave it vulnerable to injury.
- Whiplash is common. Any force applied to the head, such as when your vehicle is struck from behind, may lead to straining of the neck muscles. The weight of the head makes for a top-heavy load for the cervical vertebrae, and muscle strain is a common result.
- Degenerative discs can also cause chronic neck pain. The cushioning discs between the vertebrae tend to break down as we age, reducing their ability to act as shock absorbers. They can also herniate, leaking their fluid into surrounding spaces, which places pressure on area nerves. The nerves that radiate from the spinal cord within the cervical region travel down the length of the arms, therefore, when these nerves are irritated, the pain and loss of function can affect the arms and hands, making even simple tasks difficult.
- Spinal stenosis, or narrowing of the spinal canal from degenerative cervical discs, can also cause long-term intermittent pain, and is usually tied to activity or certain positions, as when you crane your neck to read or write.
- Other degenerative conditions, aside from disc disease, can also lead to chronic neck pain. Osteoarthritis, bone spurs, or stenosis of the nerve openings can also lead to chronic pain, loss of mobility and flexibility, and interfere with daily life.
- Other forms of injury, whether to the spine (fractures), surrounding muscles (strain), or area nerves (compression or pinching), can also result in chronic pain.
Despite the disorder, there are non-surgical therapies that may reduce or alleviate your pain, restore mobility, and improve the range of motion in your neck, hopefully returning you to an active lifestyle.
Five Non-Surgical Alternatives
Before you agree to surgery to alleviate your neck pain, you should first try a non-surgical approach. There are a range of therapies available, so consult with your doctor regarding the most appropriate treatment. Five non-surgical options include:
- Pain management: Controlling your pain may allow your body to heal naturally. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroidal injections, or narcotics, combined with rest, may enable you to avoid surgery in the future.
- Rest: Simply resting your neck may enable the muscles to heal and the nerves to return to normal. If there are activities or positions that increase the pain, avoiding these should minimize and possibly alleviate your chronic pain.
- Physical therapy: Improving neck health through strength training, increasing flexibility, and learning ways to maintain proper posture can also reduce neck pain caused by muscle strain. A certified therapist can teach you the proper ways to bend and lift, which will help you avoid further injury.
- Manual manipulation: A chiropractic specialist may be able to manually adjust your neck to reduce nerve pressure and alleviate sore muscles.
- Alternative therapies: Massage and acupuncture may also help reduce your symptoms by improving blood flow, relaxing tense muscles, and targeting trouble areas in your neck.
Non-surgical treatment alternatives provide proven methods of alleviating chronic neck pain, which may enable you to avoid surgery. Consult with a specialist, one who is board-certified in spinal surgery and who can offer a range of therapies to address your condition. If surgery becomes your only option, choose a surgeon who works within an integrated facility. That way if the non-surgical therapies fail to alleviate your chronic pain, you will already be under the care of a trained specialist.
About the author
Robert S. Bray, Jr., M.D. Nicknamed “Dr. Fix-It” by The Red Bulletin, Robert S. Bray, Jr., M.D. makes an art of helping the world’s most elite athletes return to push the boundaries of performance. The neurological spine surgeon, recognized globally for his thorough diagnoses and pioneering minimally invasive approach, is quickly redefining sports medicine, one champion at a time. Dr. Bray founded the state-of-the-art, multi-disciplinary DISC Sports & Spine Center (DISC) in 2006 located in Los Angeles, CA. Read more articles by Robert S. Bray, Jr., M.D..