by Ian Madom, MD
Neck pain is a pretty common problem that I see. Next to back pain, it is one of the biggest causes of disability out there. However, most neck pain is self-limited and will get better with a little time and rest. Sometimes ibuprofen for a few days will do the trick, and when it really just won’t go away, a physical therapist can help.
However, some neck pain comes with other symptoms that cannot, and should not, be ignored. Occasionally people will develop arm or hand numbness and pain along with their neck pain. Maybe their hand coordination has started to change, where activities such as handwriting (does anyone do this anymore?) or buttoning a shirt become quite difficult. Other folks will have a problem with their balance along with worsening neck pain. If this is the case, this person should be evaluated by an orthopedic spine surgeon.
Symptoms such as worsening hand dexterity and balance can be due to spinal stenosis in the neck. Spinal stenosis, or a narrowing of the spinal canal, can pinch the spinal cord and lead to neurologic dysfunction in addition to neck pain. In its early stages, it can be monitored and maybe even treated by some gentle physical therapy. But in its later stages, this condition needs to be addressed to prevent losing more function as time goes on. Sitting with your spine surgeon, talking about your case, reviewing your images and discussing your options is the best way to maintain your level of function, and ultimately, a high quality of life.