Neck pain and back pain can have a variety of causes but both can lead to very severe pain that can really bring down your quality of life. It can take some time to discover the underlying cause of neck pain or back pain, and to find the right treatment that can help bring some relief. Neck Pain is also commonly referred to as cervical pain and can range form very mild discomfort to severe and burning pain. At times, the pain also might radiate into the arm, hand, up into the head, shoulder or shoulder blades. It is categorized as chronic pain if lasts for more than three months at a stretch.
The neck and back are part of the spine and one tends to affect the other. Neck pain can be caused by a number of factors:
- Muscle strains: Overuse of muscles often triggers off strains. Neck muscles, especially in the back often get fatigued and eventually strained.
2. Arthritis: Age is widely accepted as a causative factor as the neck joints also tend to deteriorate like other joints.
3. Intervertebral disc disorders: With age, the cushioning disks between the vertebrae become dry, narrowing the spaces in your spinal column where the nerves come out. This can eventually result in occurrence of neck pain.
4. Injury: Rear-end collisions, most commonly resulting in whiplash injuries; stretch the neck muscles beyond their limits, causing pain.
Other causative factors include trauma or injury, worry, stress, falling asleep in an awkward position and prolonged use of a computer keyboard.
The challenge for healthcare providers is to diagnose the correct disease so they can recommend the appropriate treatment. While there are a number of diagnostic imaging tests physicians can use to determine the cause of a patient’s pain—CT scans, MRIs, nuclear imaging studies—choosing the most appropriate test is not always a straightforward decision, and experts often disagree on the best course of action.
The medical diagnosis, also called a clinical diagnosis, serves to identify the underlying cause of the patient’s neck pain. Medical professionals determine the cause of the patient’s pain through a combination of the following two to three steps:
A Review of the Patient’s Medical history
The physician will spend time asking the patient a series of questions, such as a description of when the neck or low back pain, sciatica, or other symptoms occur, a description of how the pain feels, what activities, positions, or treatments make the pain feel better and more.
A Physical Examination
The physicians will conduct a thorough physical exam of the patient, such as testing nerve function and muscle strength in certain parts of the arms, testing for pain in certain positions, and more. Usually, this series of physical tests will give the spine professional a good idea of the type of neck problem the patient has.
Diagnostic Testing (Maybe)
After the physician has a good idea of the source of the patient’s pain, a diagnostic test, such as a CT scan or an MRI scan, may be recommended in order to confirm the presence of the suspected cause of the patient’s pain. For example, if a disc problem is suspected, an imaging test can provided a detailed image showing the location and size of the herniated disc and affected nerve roots.
Should You Have an MRI for Your Neck Pain?
MRIs are powerful but can lead doctors on a wild goose chase. At what point should your doctor take a look inside your back with a high-tech MRI or CT scan, or even an old-fashioned X-ray? In most cases, the answer is later rather than sooner.
MRI OR MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING, is a radiation-free scanning technique that uses radio waves and magnetic fields to produce detailed three-dimensional images of the body. MRI can be used to identify or precisely locate an injury or abnormality, to scan for developing problems or analyze damage from previous trauma, and to aid in the planning of surgery.
Unlike X-rays, radioisotopes, CT and other methods that use radiation, MRI uses radiofrequency waves. Radio waves detect differences in water concentration and distribution in various body tissues.
The highest standard image quality of this technology is the 3T MRI (Magnetic Resonance IMAGE) has a stronger magnet and makes better images of organs and soft tissue than other types of MRI do. It is used to make High Definition images of the brain, the spine, the soft tissue of joints, and the inside of bones and blood vessels. Also called 3 Tesla magnetic resonance imaging and 3 Tesla MRI.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the Neck can be used to determine the nature of your Neck Pain. It uses a powerful magnetic field, radio waves and a computer to produce detailed pictures of the structures within the Neck. It is typically used to help diagnose or evaluate pain, weakness, swelling or bleeding in and around the neck. Neck MRI does not use ionizing radiation, and it can help determine whether you require surgery.
Benefits of Neck MRI:
- MRI is a noninvasive imaging technique that does not involve exposure to radiation.
- MRI has proven valuable in diagnosing a broad range of conditions, including tendon, ligament, muscle, cartilage and bone abnormalities that are not as visible on x-rays or CT scans.
- MRI can help determine which patients with neck injuries require surgery.
- MRI may help diagnose a bone fracture when x-rays and other tests are inconclusive.
- MRI can detect abnormalities that might be obscured by bone with other imaging methods.
- MRI provides a noninvasive alternative to x-ray, angiography and CT for diagnosing problems of the blood vessels.
The rap against MRIs as a diagnostic tool for neck or low back pain is not that the scans usually reveal nothing, or even that they’re expensive, it’s that they often show a lot of abnormalities in the back that may have nothing to do with the source of your pain. With aging, the hard-working spine begins to show signs of wear and tear, such as degeneration of disks and arthritis in joints. But for a pain condition that in most cases resolves itself in less than two months without dramatic intervention, that kind of information isn’t particularly helpful.
MRIs do not expose your body to radiation. But CT scans and X-rays do, which make them especially risky for women with neck or lower back pain who are in their childbearing years.
Most orthopedic implants pose no risk, but you should always tell the technologist if you have any devices or metal such as shrapnel in your body, especially in or near your brain, spinal cord, heart or eyes. Guidelines about eating and drinking before your exam vary between facilities. Unless you are told otherwise, take your regular medications as usual. Leave jewelry at home and remove any metal piercings. Wear loose, comfortable clothing. You may be asked to wear a gown. If you have claustrophobia or anxiety, you may want to ask your doctor for a mild sedative prior to the exam.
When do imaging tests make sense?
It can be a good idea to get an imaging test right away if you have signs of severe or worsening nerve damage, or a serious underlying problem such as cancer or a spinal infection. “Red flags” that can alert your doctor that imaging may be worthwhile include:
- A history of cancer.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Recent infection.
- Loss of bowel or bladder control.
- Abnormal reflexes, or loss of muscle power or feeling in the legs.
Your doctor might recommend an MRI if he or she suspects that your neck or low back pain is caused by something more serious than muscle strain. This may be the case if:
- Your history and physical examination show signs of a serious problem, such as a fracture, tumor’s, infection, or nerve damage.
- You are older than 70. Your doctor may also recommend testing if you are older than 50 and also have osteoporosis or a history of compression fracture.
- You have had osteoporosis for a long time or you have diabetes.
- Your body’s defense system (immune system) is not able to fight infection.
- You have a history of long-term steroid use or a history of a drug problem.
- You have a history of a previous spine injury or back surgery.
- You have symptoms related to compression on a certain nerve root or roots.
- Back pain has not improved after at least 6 weeks of home treatment that may include pain relievers, heat or ice, and exercises.
At Advanced Magnetic Imaging and Advanced Women’s Imaging, we understand you have choices when it comes to diagnostic imaging services. With our High Definition MRI system and Advantage Workstation, we can provide you with the best diagnostic tools
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The information in this document does not replace a medical consultation. It is for personal guidance use only. We recommend that patients ask their doctors about what tests or types of treatments are needed for their condition.