Pain in the neck and surrounding area is a far too common problem that is usually related to muscle tension caused by situations such as excessive stress, sleeping in an awkward or uncomfortable position or even using a computer or other work equipment for a long time, for example. However, pain in the neck and especially in the base of the skull can also be representative of more serious conditions such as spinal diseases, disc herniation and even viral or bacterial infections such as tonsillitis, osteomyelitis or meningitis.
So if you are experiencing pain in the neck and near the base of the skull, and it lasts for more than one week, and it does not significantly improve with the application of warm compresses and ingestion of analgesics such as Acetaminophen and Anti-Inflammatories such as Ibuprofen, it is recommended to consult a traumatologist to accurately identify the underlying issues initiate the appropriate treatment.
Let’s take a look at some of the possible underlying causes for that pain at the base of your skull.
ACUTE NECK PAIN. IS THE CAUSE A MUSCLE PROBLEM?
Maintaining improper posture for extended periods of time such as when you are reading or when you are using the computer, or when you sleep in an awkward position, can cause significant tension in the muscles of the back and neck. In addition to this, tension in the muscles of the back, neck, and jaw can be generated by a condition known as bruxism, which involves excessive teeth grinding or clenching during sleep. Bruxism is quite common, and it affects around 10% of the population and is a widespread cause of pain in the neck to the base of the skull and the ear.
What can you do if you believe your neck pain is caused by muscle tension? This type of pain can be alleviated with the warm compress application on the affected area in conjunction with analgesic and anti-inflammatory therapy. Adopting proper body posture will be necessary for the complete cessation of the pain. Strengthening exercises can go a long way to ensure the necks at the base of the neck, and upper back are relaxed. In case bruxism is the underlying cause a consultation with a dentist will be recommended.
IS THE PAIN A POTENTIAL SPINE PROBLEM?
Osteoarthritis of the spine, also known as Spondylosis, Spondyloarthrosis, involves the progressive degeneration of the cartilage tissue of the joints of the spinal column. Spondylosis is characterized by causing symptoms such as the severe pain of the back as well as difficulty moving, in addition to pain near the base of the skull.
What to do? Arthritic disease has no cure, but it can be treated by medications such as analgesics; Opioid therapy is also highly effective; Anti-inflammatories such as Ketoprofen or Ibuprofen in tablets or in ointment form can be useful with certain patients. To further alleviate the symptoms of spinal arthritic disease, your doctor might recommend dietary supplements such as glucosamine sulfate with added chondroitin to help regenerate the worn down cartilage.
On a more serious side, cervical disc hernias can be to blame for your neck pain. Cervical herniation, more commonly known as a slipped disc, involves the displacement of the intervertebral disc, or the region between the two vertebrae, which allows the soft tissues underneath to bulge outwards. Although sometimes caused by trauma, the most prevalent cause of cervical herniation is the progressive age-related degeneration of the intervertebral disc.
One of the main symptoms of cervical disc herniation is severe pain in the neck, which will typically spread to the shoulders, arms and even hands, often causing significant tingling and numbness. In addition to this, in the more advanced cases decreased muscle strength often leads to difficulty moving the neck.
These symptoms can be alleviated with the help of warm compress therapy and some form of analgesic and anti-inflammatory drug regimen. Muscle relaxants have also been known to help in some cases. Proper posture is highly important if you suffer from a herniated cervical disc because it is crucial to reduce the compression of the spinal nerves and to strengthen the muscles surrounding the neck.
COULD NECK PAIN BE MENINGITIS?
Meningitis is a serious and potentially deadly inflammation of the meninges, which are the membranes that envelope the brain and spinal cord. Most commonly this condition is caused by viral or bacterial infection. Typically, meningitis can arise after a bad case of the flu, for example, but in some cases, it can be caused by trauma and even fungal infections. Fungal infections are especially common when the patient’s immune system is compromised. Meningitis is characterized by a stiff neck accompanied by intense pain.
Treatment of meningitis will depend largely on its underlying cause and can be treated with a course of antibiotics, antiviral medications, antimycotics, or corticosteroids therapy and hospitalization.
OR COULD THE NECK PAIN BE AN EARLY SIGN OF CANCER?
The sudden appearance of a nodule in the neck due to cancer in some rare cases may generate significant pain in the neck and its surrounding tissues. When a patient presents pain near the base of the skull accompanied by hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, unexplained weight loss and general malaise, a thorough medical examination is recommended. In the presence of these specific symptoms you should go see a doctor as soon as possible in order to facilitate a diagnosis. A combination of physical examinations and imaging tests such as ultrasound may help identify the most appropriate treatment.
Pain near the base of the neck is not necessarily a symptom of some life-threatening condition, but it could potentially signal the presence of a serious disease. When pain near the base of your skull is present, and it persists for more than one week the best course of action is to visit your primary health care provider and work with him to identify the underlying cause and adopt proper treatment.
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