Have you ever heard the saying “you can be a real pain in the neck”? That’s because that’s exactly what neck pain is..PAIN! And there’s not just one kind of neck pain, there’s multiple- which is what we outline here for you today.

Neck pain can take on various forms, ranging anywhere from a dull and irritating ache, to burning, debilitating nerve pain that may radiate down the shoulder and into the arm. There can also be wide variations in how the pain started and how long it may last. In this article we  explain 4 different types of neck pain. We also highlight the differences between short-term acute pain and long-lasting chronic pain so you can get a better understanding of what kind of pain you may be dealing with.  Let’s get cracking! 

Axial Neck Pain

The most common type of neck pain is axial neck pain, also called mechanical pain. Axial pain is focused on one part or region of the neck and does not move or radiate. 

How common is axial neck pain?

Axial neck pain is very common, affecting approximately 10% of the population at any given time. Fortunately, the majority of these people do not have symptoms severe enough to limit their daily activity.

Neck muscle strains and/or ligament sprains are typical causes of axial neck pain. Other sources of axial neck pain include various mechanisms related to spinal degeneration or trauma, including cervical disc degeneration, facet joint dysfunction, or vertebral bone fracture.

What are the symptoms of axial neck pain?

It typically feels dull, achy, or throbbing, but it can also be sharp or stinging. Pain in the posterior neck is the primary symptom of axial neck pain. The pain can sometimes travel to the base of the skull, shoulder, or shoulder blade. Other symptoms include neck stiffness, headaches, and localized areas of muscle pain, warmth, or tingling.

Symptoms may also increase with certain movements or poor posture.

Radicular Pain

Radicular pain also known as Cervical radiculopathy or as a “pinched nerve” is a condition that results in radiating pain, weakness and/or numbness caused by compression of any of the nerve roots in your neck. 

When radicular pain stems from the cervical spine, it is usually due to spinal degeneration, such as when a nerve root is irritated by bony overgrowths, called osteophytes (bone spurs), or a cervical herniated disc.

What are the symptoms of radicular neck pain?

It can occur when a nerve root in the cervical spine becomes inflamed, causing pain to radiate along the nerve, down into the shoulder, arm, and/or hand.

Radicular pain involves the nerve, and nerve pain can feel searing or electric shock-like. The pain can intensify with certain movements and posture. It is typically experienced on only one side of the body, but it can be on both.

How common is cervical radiculopathy?

Cervical radiculopathy is somewhat common. Cervical radiculopathy affects approximately 85 out of 100,000 people. In over half of cervical radiculopathy cases, the C7 nerve root is affected. Approximately a quarter of cases affect the C6 nerve root.

Most cases of cervical radiculopathy go away with nonsurgical treatment.

Referred Pain

Referred pain is pain in one part of the body that is triggered by a problem in another part of the body. For example, when pain is experienced in a location other than its source and is not caused by nerve root irritation, it is called referred pain. It is usually experienced as a deep, achy, cramping and/or throbbing sensation. The area of distribution is likely to be more spread out. Referred pain is typically felt on only one side of the body, but there have been cases where it can be on both.

The mechanisms of how referred pain develops and spreads are still being studied. For example, when a trigger point (tender or hypersensitive part of a muscle) is compressed, the pain symptoms can be referred to other parts of the body. 

Meaning, referred pain can be a symptom of serious things happening in your body. It’s important to understand how and why it happens. Pain can be referred to the neck in various ways, such as from the heart (during a heart attack) or jaw (temporomandibular joint). Conversely, a pathology in the neck can cause referred pain in other parts of the body, most commonly a headache, shoulder pain, or upper back pain.

If you frequently experience phantom or referred pain in areas of your body that haven’t been strained or hurt, speak to a spine and nerve physician immediately.

Myelopathic Pain

When the spinal cord in the neck becomes compressed, myelopathic pain aka cervical myelopathy may develop. While myelopathic pain may occur at the level of compression causing neck pain, symptoms are often located at a distance below the neck/compression site, such as in the legs and/or feet. This separation of symptoms and causal region may contribute to an increased risk for misdiagnosis and mismanagement.

Signs and symptoms of cervical myelopathy

The symptoms of cervical myelopathy will typically start in the area of your neck. Early signs of cervical myelopathy include neck pain or stiffness.

If cervical myelopathy is untreated, the compression of the spinal cord will start to have neurological effects as well. This can cause more severe symptoms as time goes on, including:

  • weakness or tingling in your arms, shoulders, and hands
  • limited range of motion
  • weakness in your extremities
  • loss of fine motor abilities, like grasping and picking things up
  • numbness or tingling in your arms and hands
  • losing your balance
  • walking difficulties
  • sustained muscle contractions, also known as spasticity

Several Pain Types Can Exist Together

Any of these pain types can occur alone or in combination with one or more others. For example, it can be difficult to distinguish between radicular pain and referred pain, and some spinal pathologies can lead to both types of pain. That’s why it’s important to see a specialist as soon as you can. 

Experience pain relief 

As you can see, the anatomy of the neck is pretty complex. Other than supporting the head and its movement, it also has bones, muscles and essential nerves that facilitate communication between the brain and the body. Therefore, whatever the cause of your neck pain might be, it is advisable you seek professional help from a well-established facility like Southern Pain and Spine Specialists.

Get out of pain!

By educating yourself more about neck pain you can take proactive steps and see a physician before an injury gets worse, and also take preventative measures to protect your spine from future injury.

At Southern Pain & Spine Specialists, we have a strong commitment to patient education and maximizing pain-free mobility. If you’re suffering from prolonged neck pain, best thing to do is schedule a consultation with Dr. Alamarie, at Southern Pain & Spine Specialists to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. We want you to know what your options are and how you can get back to living a pain free life.

Click Here to contact the spine center that Matthews & Waxhaw residents in Charlotte, NC rely on! Reserve your FREE consultation with us today and get out of pain!

Subscribe to the newsletter

For advancements, insights, and updates