Acute and Chronic Neck Pain – An Orthopedic Overview

Acute and Chronic Neck Pain - An Orthopedic Overview Blog  Neck pain

Neck pain is an extremely common problem that the majority of people will deal with at some point during their lifetime. This pain problem can vary in intensity and duration of time it is experienced. Some people may be able to treat their neck problem successfully at home, while other people struggle with it as a chronic and nearly debilitating issue. While many people feel as though their pain appeared suddenly, there are actually many commonly overlooked causes that can include:

  • Straining or pulling muscles
  • Poor posture
  • Inadequate neck support during sleep
  • Aggravating a past injury
  • Lack of ergonomic consideration for work spaces

Obvious causes of neck pain are trauma or injury, such as whiplash from an automobile accident, or a sudden impact during sports or physical activities.

Addressing Acute Neck Pain

Most cases of neck pain do not indicate a serious underlying problem. However, a healthcare professional should be seen as soon as possible if the pain has a direct and severe onset following an injury to the head or neck, is accompanied by weakness and numbness in the limbs or if the pain is so severe it restricts daily living activities for more than a few days.

Simple at-home treatments often work to help heal acute pain. Acute pain is characterized by a sudden onset and will most likely heal within a few weeks. Self-care treatments include:

  • Rest from arduous activities
  • Stretching and receiving massage
  • Ice compresses followed by heat to reduce swelling and relax muscles
  • Over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen

Addressing Chronic Neck Pain

Chronic pain of the neck is characterized by discomfort, activity restriction or increase in discomfort for 3 months or longer. People who chronically suffer from this often struggle with the following symptoms:

  • Muscle tension
  • Inflexibility and reduced ability to move the neck
  • Sharp, shooting pain
  • Sensations of numbness, burning or tingling in the neck, face or radiating down the arms

Causes of this ongoing pain can vary and may be attributed to one or more of the following problems:

  • Pinched nerve
  • Herniated disc
  • Arthritis
  • Abnormal constriction of the spine, known as stenosis

Neck pain Treatments for chronic pain in the neck area include physical therapy, chiropractic adjustments, therapeutic massage and acupuncture. There are also many home exercises that can be performed to help support and increase the efficacy of chiropractic treatment, such as:

  • Front-to-back neck stretches
  • Ear-to-shoulder stretches
  • Shoulder rolls

Preventing Neck Injuries and Pain

Strengthening neck muscles and preventing situations that may predispose a person to neck injuries is of paramount importance. A chiropractor can offer comprehensive counseling on many healthful habits to form in order to maintain orthopedic health. These include:

  • Proper lifting techniques
  • Maintaining proper posture while standing and sitting
  • Learning about automobile posture and position to reduce neck strain while driving
  • Maintaining a correct sleeping position through the use of a firm mattress and orthopedic pillows
  • Engaging in regular neck stretches
  • Learning to cope with stress
  • Ergonomic counseling to reduce work-related strains and injuries

Chiropractic care can work to successfully treat the causes of discomfort and disability of the neck without resorting to prescription pain pills, steroidal injections or surgeries. Making an appointment with an experienced and caring chiropractor will provide access to orthopedic rehabilitation information and lifestyle changes that can help to decrease the likelihood of experiencing accidental injuries and subsequent pain. Proper attention to this common malady helps to prevent depression, missed work and prolonged inactivity.


In this instance, an athlete was originally diagnosed with minor quadriceps muscle strain and was treated for four weeks, with unsatisfactory results. When he came to our clinic, the muscle was not healing, and the patients’ muscle tissue had already begun to atrophy.

Upon examination using MSUS, we discovered that he had a full muscle thickness tear that had been overlooked by his previous provider. To mitigate damage and promote healing, surgery should have been performed immediately after the injury occurred. Because of misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment, the patient now has permanent damage that cannot be corrected.

The most important advantage of Ultrasound over MRI imaging is its ability to zero in on the symptomatic region and obtain imaging, with active participation and feedback from the patient. Using dynamic MSUS, we can see what happens when patients contract their muscles, something that cannot be done with MRI. From a diagnostic perspective, this interaction is invaluable.

Dynamic ultrasonography examination demonstrating
the full thickness tear and already occurring muscle atrophy
due to misdiagnosis and not referring the patient
to proper diagnostic workup

Demonstration of how very small muscle defect is made and revealed
to be a complete tear with muscle contraction
under diagnostic sonography (not possible with MRI)


Complete tear of rectus femoris
with large hematoma (blood)


Separation of muscle ends due to tear elicited
on dynamic sonography examination

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