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Epidemiology, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Neck Pain

  • Steven P. Cohen
    Correspondence
    Correspondence: Address to Steven P. Cohen, MD, 550 N Broadway, Ste 301, Baltimore, MD 21029.
    Affiliations
    Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD
    Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD
    Department of Anesthesiology, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD
    Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD
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      Abstract

      Neck pain is the fourth leading cause of disability, with an annual prevalence rate exceeding 30%. Most episodes of acute neck pain will resolve with or without treatment, but nearly 50% of individuals will continue to experience some degree of pain or frequent occurrences. History and physical examination can provide important clues as to whether the pain is neuropathic or mechanical and can also be used to identify “red flags” that may signify serious pathology, such as myelopathy, atlantoaxial subluxation, and metastases. Magnetic resonance imaging is characterized by a high prevalence of abnormal findings in asymptomatic individuals but should be considered for cases involving focal neurologic symptoms, pain refractory to conventional treatment, and when referring a patient for interventional treatment. Few clinical trials have evaluated treatments for neck pain. Exercise treatment appears to be beneficial in patients with neck pain. There is some evidence to support muscle relaxants in acute neck pain associated with muscle spasm, conflicting evidence for epidural corticosteroid injections for radiculopathy, and weak positive evidence for cervical facet joint radiofrequency denervation. In patients with radiculopathy or myelopathy, surgery appears to be more effective than nonsurgical therapy in the short term but not in the long term for most people.

      Abbreviations and Acronyms:

      MRI ( magnetic resonance imaging), NSAID ( nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug), SNRB ( selective nerve root block)

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