Neck Pain Symptoms, Signs and Diagnosis

Neck pain symptoms and signs

Neck pain symptoms and the accompanying signs can often help to diagnose the cause of neck pain. For example neck pain and neck stiffness with headache can be diagnostic of meningitis. Similarly, symptoms of throat and neck cancer will manifest as

  • neck pain and as a non-healing ulcer in the mouth,
  • or persistent sore throat and hoarseness,
  • or a lump in the neck,
  • or swollen lymph glands in the neck.
  • You may have neck pain on the left side of the neck if your left neck muscle is strained and similarly on the right side if your right sided neck muscle is strained.
  • Ear pain behind the ear is seen in some cases of neck pain. This is because the tendons of many neck muscles end in the mastoid process, which is situated behind the ear. These strained neck muscles cause pain at the site of the mastoid process.
  • Tenderness will be seen on the strained muscle.
  • Neck pain is often accompanied by headache and shoulder pain.
  • A stiff neck or neck stiffness is a very common accompanying symptom of neck pain.
  • Neck pain due to a pinched nerve in the cervical spine area will give neck and shoulder pain, which cab radiate to the hand. There may be accompanying tingling, numbness and weakness in one hand or both the hands. This is commonly due to cervical spondylosis.
  • Dizziness may accompany neck pain. This can suggest that the vertebral artery, which supplies blood to the brain is being compressed by the degenerative changes in the spine. Neck pain and dizziness  could also be due yo a syndrome is called cervicogenic dizziness.

The following are symptoms that suggest serious causes of neck pain and need medical intervention.

  • Symptom of neck pain or stiffness persists after one week in spite of home care treatment and painkillers and increases in severity.
  • You also have a lump or swelling in the neck. Either the lymph glands of the neck are swollen due to infection or cancer or the swelling could be a growth
  • You have numbness, tingling and weakness in one or both the hands, which coexist with the neck pain symptom. This could be caused by cervical spondylosis. This symptom of neck pain is caused by a pinched nerve
  • Neck pain is the result of fall or trauma.
  • You lose control over your bowels and bladder. This could be caused by the involvement of the spinal cord, either by a herniating intervertebral disc or a growth or a bony spur.
  • symptoms of neck stiffness is marked and your chin cannot touch the chest. This could be the sign of meningitis (infection of the membranes of the brain).
  • Jaw pain sometimes accompanies neck pain. The pain of heart attack can radiate to the neck and further on to your jaw. You then have jaw pain and neck pain together. Disorders of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) can also cause jaw pain, which can radiate to the neck. If the left TMJ is involved, you will have accompanying left-sided neck pain. In case of the right TMJ involvement, you will have right-sided neck pain. TMJ is the joint in front of the ear and joins the jawbone and the maxillary bone.
  • Symptoms of neck pain and fatigue could be due to certain underlying causes such as muscle strain, meningitis, degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis and more.

Tests to diagnose cause of neck pain

When conservative therapy for neck pain does not relieve you of the pain, the following tests are done to diagnose causes of neck pain symptoms.

  • Blood tests to rule out infection
  • X-ray of the neck to rule out any bony pathology such as a tumor and cervical spondylosis
  • Cervical CT scan
  • Cervical MRI

Both these radiological tests will help to rule out any birth or acquired bone defects such as fractures, tumors, herniated discs, sclerosis, spinal stenosis, cervical spondylosis and more.

  • Electromyography (EMG) is done to look for any pathology in the muscles and the nerves that control them.
  • Lumbar puncture or spinal tap is done to rule of meningitis.
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