Archive for 'neck pain'

In today’s world we are bombarded by information and ways to obtain it. Do you want to know how many steps you take a day? Just buy a device and it will calculate it for you. Care to know what your cholesterol levels are? Simply go get a kit at your nearest drug store. Is it possible we are gathering too much information for our own good?

The same question can be asked about medical testing. Is it useful or even helpful to know certain things about our bodies? Many of us have undoubtedly had the experience where we have gone to the doctor because we had pain and an imaging study was ordered. MRI, CT, and ultrasound can give us information about our bodies that would have been unimaginable in the past.

While technology in general is of course a huge benefit, at the Norman Marcus Pain Institute, we believe it is necessary to proceed with caution as we navigate through it all. At NMPI, one common problem we find in back pain, neck pain, and shoulder pain is the overuse and overreliance on imaging studies. “Abnormalities” are often found on imaging studies without any relation to one’s pain. In fact, seeing abnormalities is more common than seeing a “normal” spine!   For example, up to 40% of people without back pain can haveBack Pain herniated discs and as many as 70% may have degenerated discs. That is why the US Institute of Medicine suggests not getting an MRI too quickly since you are likely to see one of these problems and assume it is the cause of your pain. This can lead to unnecessary nerve blocks and surgery.

At NMPI, we often see patients who have a herniated disc, yet they only have pain in their back and buttock. They have not experienced any radiation into the leg(s) at all. In these patients, the pain generally has nothing to do with the disc herniation since disc herniation pain generally radiates down the leg and into the foot. Even when the patient is experiencing pain down the leg with a herniated disc found on MRI, muscles in the low back and buttocks may be the cause of the pain. If muscles are not examined as a potential cause, you may undergo an apparently reasonable surgery, without achieving relief of pain. Some studies show that up to 50% of spine surgeries fail (resulting in failed back surgery syndrome) and one of the reasons is the failure to identify muscles that were the true source of the pain.

Most back pain and neck pain is caused by soft tissue such as muscles and tendons. This is confusing because you may have been told your pain is from your spine, discs, or nerves. The problem is most people as they get older have signs of wear and tear on their x-rays and MRIs, but these common signs of aging may not explain your pain if the pain actually originates in your muscles. That’s why we say, when diagnosing persistent pain it’s not having “more” information at hand, it’s having the “right” information at hand.

At NMPI, we often see patients who experience persistent pain even after multiple spine surgeries. Our non-surgical, non-invasive treatment program has most of our patients leaving our office free of long standing back, neck, shoulder, and headache pain.

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Sometimes the pain isn’t coming from where you think

 

I recently saw Fred, a 30 year old male, who complained of significant neck pain and shoulder pain. The pain on his left side was much greater than on the right. He tried several chiropractic treatments, massage, physical therapy, acupuncture, and exercises without relief of his pain.

neckpain

When I first examined Fred, I found two muscles that were painful, his anterior and medial scalenes on both sides. The scalenes are muscles that go from the side of the neck down to the 1st rib as it sits under the clavicle (collarbone). Since he complained mostly of pain on his left neck and shoulder, I injected his left scalenes, followed by 3 days of physical therapy (which included neuromuscular electrical stimulation and gentle, limbering exercises). Fred claimed that the pain on the left subsided, but he noticed that the right side was now more painful. So, the following week, he had his right scalenes treated (with injections into the muscle, followed by 3 days of physical therapy). Fred reported a significant decrease in his overall pain, and reported only soreness at the injection sites.

I followed up with Fred approximately one month later. He reported to me that his overall pain level continued to stay low, but he noticed that when he looked up, he felt tightness on the left side of his neck.  When I examined him, I found two muscles to be contributing to his pain, the Serratus Anterior and the Subscapularis. These muscles are in his shoulder. He was very shocked to learn that tightness in his neck was caused by muscles in his shoulder!!

Once these muscles were treated, he reported that the tightness in his neck was released. Sometimes we have to look for muscles contributing to pain in areas other than where you may be feeling it. This is called referred pain. If I had continued to treat muscles in Fred’s neck, he may never have had relief!

 

 

 

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Stiffness is an important aspect of muscle pain

I recently saw George, a 48-year-old man, who suffered from pain, described as soreness in the thighs, neck, shoulders and arms, and tingling in his calves and shin. Sitting for more than two hours or sitting for more than 20 minutes would cause an increase in his pain.  Bending over also brought on his pain.

George had tried physical therapy on multiple occasions, and saw two neurologists, who could not find anything that would explain his pain.

When I examined him, I found him to be strong but very stiff. When he bent over, he was able to reach within 14 inches of the floor. When he lied on his back and lifted one leg up at a time, he was able to reach only 57 degrees (85 75 degrees is normal). Because he was so stiff, I decided to start a course of exercises that would help increase his range of motion.

Over the next few weeks, George learned all 21 of the Kraus-Marcus exercises, which he was advised to do every day. As he did the exercises, he noticed that his pain level was decreasing and wasn’t occurring as often as usual. When he was taught the last 7 exercises, he was able to bend over to within 9 inches of the floor, and could lift each leg to 80 degrees.

A month later, George reports a 90% decrease in his overall pain.  Sometimes we find that starting with the most conservative of treatments can prevent us from performing more costly and dangerous treatments. Very often, stiffness is an important aspect of one’s pain that can easily be found and treated!

 

 

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Small changes may make a big difference to your neck pain

There has been an increase in the number of hours we sit in front of a computer for leisure and work. Does your job require you to stare at a computer for hours at a time? One study found that workers sitting for 95% of the day, and/or worked with their neck at 20˚ or more in flexion for more than 70% of their working time, had a significantly increased risk of neck pain[1].

An ergonomically designed workstation would help reduce the strain on your muscles. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Place your monitor so you are looking at it straight ahead or down at no more than a 15˚ angle.
  • The monitor should be 18-24 inches away.
  • The angle of your elbows when typing on the keyboard should be > 90 degrees.
  • An ergonomic mouse or keyboard may also help.
  • A laptop is always non-ergonomic; because the monitor and keyboard cannot be separated one or the other is in the wrong position.  If you always use a laptop think about getting an auxiliary keyboard.
  • Footrests should be used if your feet do not rest flat on the floor.
  • If you use a phone frequently get a headset so you will not have to hold the handset to your ear.

Aside from these changes, you may also consider doing limbering activities such as small stretches throughout the day – shrug your shoulders a few times, move your arms above your head, or get up and walk around your chair.



[1] Ariens, G. AM, P. M. Bongers, M. Douwes, M. C. Miedema, W. E. Hoogendoorn, G. Van Der Wal, L. M. Bouter, and W. Van Mechelen. “Are Neck Flexion, Neck Rotation, and Sitting at Work Risk Factors for Neck Pain? Results of a Prospective Cohort Study.” Occupational and Environmental Medicine 58 (2001): 200-07. BMJ Group. Web.

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Case Study: Low Level Laser Therapy

Gregory is a 29 year old manager whose job requires that he travel often.  He came to see me for pain at the back of the left side of his neck which he often felt upon waking up, and during or after jogging over the past 4-5 years.  An MRI showed that his neck did not have any significant spinal abnormalities that might be causing his pain, but a physical examination revealed three muscles that were likely the source of his pain.

I began treating Gregory with a 15 watt class 4 laser.  On his second day of treatment, he reported that he felt no pain in the left side of his neck when he woke up, but that the pain had moved to the right side of the neck and shoulder.  I continued treating the left side of his neck, and also began to treat the right side with the laser.

When he returned for the third day of treatment, the pain in the left side of his neck was completely gone, and the right side’s discomfort was significantly reduced.  At a two month follow-up, his pain was gone.

He is now able to go jogging without any pain in his shoulders or neck.  By starting with a conservative treatment approach, Gregory was able to avoid invasive or costly procedures, and regain function.

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A number of my patients who have been struggling with pain management for more than a year may report that although their pain began in one specific spot, over time, it began to spread. Sometimes, over time, neck pain would involve the lower back pain as well. Many of these patients were thought to possibly have fibromyalgia syndrome and were given anticonvulsant or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). The spread of pain may be from central sensitization (CS) (http://bit.ly/1aVsdg0, http://bit.ly/1bHgSDU). With some of these patients when the worst pain was treated and resolved from one area it could appear in another and muscles not recognized on the initial examination would now be found to be causing discomfort. This could be a function of diffuse noxious inhibitory control (DNIC) http://bit.ly/14Ac4GL,

These confounding problems appear to represent two opposing and confusing phenomenon: CS and DNIC [currently referred to as conditioned pain modulation (CPM)] (http://bit.ly/1aVuish). Do these issues enter into your evaluation and treatment protocols?

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Neck Pain

Neck PainWhen dealing with neck pain, the importance of upper body stiffness and tension cannot be overstated. Sustained muscle contraction – any muscle, even in a hand – is not only an invitation to pain, it can cause pain without a person being aware of the source. If we don’t put our muscles through their full range of motion, they will become stiff in the areas where they never or rarely move.

Neck pain is frequently associated with headaches and pain that spreads through the shoulders and down the arms. Because of this, it is easy to assume that pain which is actually caused by muscles is caused by issues with the spine or nerves. For example, stiffness in the Rhomboids, a muscle between the shoulder blades, can cause pain in the pinky and fourth finger – making it appear to be an issue with the Ulnar nerve. Therefore, it is essential that a physical examination be performed to determine if muscles are a component of your pain. Our evaluation involves electrically stimulating one muscle at a time to determine which muscles, if any, are the source of your pain, allowing us to provide the specific treatment you need. Knowing that muscles are not the reason for your pain is as important as knowing they are. Spine surgery, epidural steroids, facet blocks, or radiofrequency ablation will have a greater frequency of success if muscles have been eliminated as the source of pain.

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NORMAN MARCUS PAIN INSTITUTE
30 East 40th Street - New York, NY 10016
Tel 212-532-7999 Fax 212-532-5957
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