Neck pain is a common complaint that many individuals experience at some point in their lives. As a physiotherapist, it is crucial to distinguish between typical neck pain and situations where the pain may be an indication of a more serious underlying condition. In this article, we will explore some scenarios when neck pain can be a cause for concern and may require immediate medical attention.
- Traumatic Injury: If neck pain is the result of a traumatic event, such as a car accident, a fall, or a sports injury, it should not be ignored. Trauma to the neck can lead to fractures, dislocations, or damage to the spinal cord. Signs of a more serious injury include severe pain, neck deformity, weakness or numbness in the arms or legs, difficulty breathing, or loss of bladder or bowel control. In such cases, seeking urgent medical attention is essential.
- Radiating Pain or Tingling: Neck pain that radiates down the arm, accompanied by tingling or numbness, may indicate a pinched nerve or herniated disc. The compression of nerves in the neck can cause symptoms that extend beyond the neck itself. If these symptoms are persistent or worsening, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation and appropriate treatment.
- Neck Pain with Headaches or Dizziness: Neck pain that is accompanied by severe headaches, dizziness, or changes in vision may be a sign of a more complex condition. Conditions such as cervical spine instability, cervicogenic headaches, or cervical artery dissection can cause these symptoms. Seeking medical assessment is recommended to determine the underlying cause and ensure appropriate management.
- Progressive Weakness or Loss of Coordination: If neck pain is accompanied by progressive weakness, loss of coordination, or difficulty with fine motor skills, it may indicate spinal cord compression or a neurological disorder. These symptoms should not be ignored and require immediate medical attention to prevent further complications.
- Persistent or Worsening Neck Pain: While most cases of neck pain resolve with conservative measures such as rest, gentle exercises, and physiotherapy, persistent or worsening neck pain should be evaluated by a healthcare professional. If the pain does not improve after a few weeks or if it is progressively getting worse, further investigation may be necessary to identify the underlying cause and determine appropriate treatment options.
It is important to note that this article provides general information and not specific medical advice. The evaluation and management of neck pain should be done by qualified healthcare professionals who can conduct a thorough examination, review medical history, and order relevant diagnostic tests if needed.
At Crawley Physiotherapy Clinic, whenever I have someone who is presenting with neck pain, I do specific tests to rule out some specific ‘red flags’ that can occur from an MSK point of view. However, as we have discussed here, there are neck pain related injuries that are outside the realm of normal MSK injuries, and on the rare occasion, I do refer forward for further assessment by an adjacent health professional, at Crawley Hospital, Crawley Walk in Centre or East Surrey Hospital.
In conclusion, while most cases of neck pain are not indicative of a serious condition, certain circumstances warrant immediate medical attention. Traumatic injuries, radiating pain, headaches or dizziness, progressive weakness or loss of coordination, and persistent or worsening neck pain are all situations that require medical evaluation. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional promptly.
Note: This article was written with the help of AI technology and therefore may include incorrect information and discrepancies. It is important to consult with qualified healthcare professionals for personalised advice and treatment.