Cervical-Related Pain

neck pain

There are a lot of cervical pain syndromes, varying from those that are congenital to those that are injurious or degenerative. Cervical pain can be caused by cervical sprains, strains, fibromyalgia, or cervical spine subluxation.

Sudden acceleration/deceleration of the cervical spine is not a manageable condition to treat. Degeneration and spondylosis are expected outcomes of this type of injury, leading to chronic pain. About 40 percent of all patients with CAD syndrome suffer some ongoing, chronic pain, with 20 percent having pain that interferes with quality of life. People with pre-existing degenerative syndromes are more likely to suffer from chronic pain than those without previous degenerative cervical pain.

Facet Joints

Some pain can come from the facet joints becoming dislodged or fractured. Accidents as low as 6 mph can change the dynamics of the cervical spine and cause chronic pain. It is estimated that 60 percent of the pain from a CAD injury comes from damage to the facet joints. Sometimes, there can be severe damage to the facet joints that don’t even appear on an MRI of the cervical spine. Facet nerve injections and radiofrequency rhizotomies are often used to treat these injuries. Problems can occur with hypertrophy at the level of the facet joints after trauma that can cause narrowing of the intervertebral foramina and nerve damage if not treated promptly.

In an acceleration/deceleration injury to the neck, the intervertebral disk at C5 to C6 can be damaged—shearing and tearing the annular fibers. The nucleus pulposus can fall out of tears in the annulus. MRI cannot always detect these kinds of injuries. Discography may have to be done if there is suspicion of cervical disc injury that doesn’t appear on routine MRI testing.

Causes of Cervical Pain

Ligamentous injury can happen with acceleration/deceleration injuries to the cervical spine. The ligaments can stretch or tear following a CAD injury. Headaches are a common symptom, especially if the upper ligaments are involved. Lower cervical injuries in which the patient has had a disc surgery usually have a resolution of pain and disability. Overall, however, headaches are a common complication of a CAD-type injury.

Sometimes muscles are the cause of posttraumatic cervical injuries. One muscle, called the rectus capitis posterior minor muscle, is involved in posttraumatic headaches. Trigger points are often found that radiate to the back of the head. The usual treatment involves trigger point injections, stretching exercises, and massage therapy. Some people get better with chiropractic manipulation and/or acupuncture. Pain comes when the fascia of the muscle is involved and inflamed. The fascia is usually the location of trigger point pain.

Pain can also be because of injury to the dorsal horn of the spinal cord itself. When these areas are damaged, substances P, GABA, and N-methyl-D aspartate (NDMA) are released, which becomes the source of the pain.

Prognosis of Cervical Pain

The prognosis of long-lasting cervical pain depends on many factors  Injury to the central nervous system appears to predict chronic pain, especially dorsal horn involvement of the spinal cord  Disc injury, joint injury, or nerve injury also indicates the presence of impending chronic pain  Older people with degeneration has a greater chance of having chronic pain than younger, healthier patients.

The chances of chronic pain are greater if the chin is elevated or the neck is turned to one side during a cervical injury. If the person slouches so that there is a greater distance between the back of the head and the headrest, there is likelier to be a more significant acceleration/deceleration injury.


Treating acceleration/deceleration injuries involves the judicious use of medications to ease the pain to the degree that stretching and other exercises can be undertaken. Biofeedback in neck injuries is helpful. Chiropractic manipulation helps some people  Manipulation often breaks up interarticular adhesions and frees up fixed joints. The narrowed nerve foramina can be widened with chiropractic manipulation as well.

Trigger point injection is also helpful in CAD injuries. It often relieves areas of inflammation associated with chronic pain  Treatment plans for patients with CAD injuries need to be individualized to the patient and to what part of the cervical spine has been injured. Pain medications, anti-depressants, smoking cessation, dietary modification, vitamin therapy, and exercise are good therapies to try.

Photo by Klara Kulikova on Unsplash [cs 726]

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