Neck pain is a very common symptom and can result from a variety of causes. Primary care doctors may refer patients to be evaluated by a neurosurgeon if the neck pain can be treated surgically and if they are experiencing any of the following symptoms: headache associated with neck pain, pain shooting down one arm, numbness or tingling in the arms or hands, leg weakness or loss of coordination, pain that does not respond to pain medications. The common causes of neck pain are degeneration of the discs that cushion the spinal column, narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis), arthritis and, rarely, tumors or meningitis. Age and injury, such as whiplash, can be major factors in the development of neck pain. Pressure on the nerves in this region of the neck can lead to significant disability and should be treated promptly.
Neck pain is usually evaluated by reviewing the patient's symptoms, performing a physical exam and reviewing any diagnostic studies such as CT scan, MRI, Electromyography (EMG) or X-rays. Typically, neurosurgeons will try the most conservative approach to treating a patient's neck pain. This usually includes pain medications, cervical collars, pain injections or steroids. Surgery may be necessary for those patients who do not experience significant relief from conservative treatments or for those patients who are experiencing worsening neck pain.
Several different surgical techniques can be used to treat neck pain depending on the cause of the condition. Spinal fusion or anterior cervical discectomy and fusion, minimally invasive spine surgery and cervical laminectomy are just a few examples. Outcomes vary and depend on the severity of the condition as well as several other factors. Patients may require physical therapy after surgery to help in the recovery process.