Cervicalgia1 is a term used to describe pain or significant discomfort in your neck, especially at the back and/or sides. Lumbago is a similar term to cervicalgia except that it refers to pain in the low back.
Many experts believe that by the time we are 65, nearly everyone (that is, 95% of people) will have had at least one episode of cervicalgia.
Where Does Cervicalgia Occur?
Basically, cervicalgia is neck pain, or pain that occurs in the cervical spine. The cervical spine is defined as the area extending from the first spinal vertebra through the seventh. The first bone of your spine is located at about the level of your ears, and the seventh is located at the base of the neck.
The first seven spinal bones are the ones that make up the neck. This means that the bone below the seventh cervical vertebra, is not the eighth, as one might expect, but rather the first thoracic vertebra. It is attached to the first rib and is associated with the thoracic spine, which corresponds to the upper and mid-back areas.
A herniated disc3 may result in cervicalgia. Another cause was offered by the authors of a 2016 study published in the April issue of the International Archives of Otorhinolaryngology, noting that disruption between the strength and flexibility of neck muscles can lead to cervicalgia.4
If you have cervicalgia, your symptoms may include constant neck ache, sharp pain in your neck brought about by movement, especially turning or twisting, tension, stiffness in the muscles of your upper back and/or neck, headaches and/or neck muscles that are tender to the touch.5
Cervicalgia can be pretty intense at times, but it is generally felt in the same area from which it arises. This is unlike radiating pain due to herniated disc, for example, where an impinged spinal nerve root sends shooting, electrical or similar sensations down the pathway of the nerve. This type of pain is often felt far away from the lesion, a term that refers to the location of the issue or problem that instigates the pain. That said, neck pain you may experience due to a herniated disc whether solely or in addition to radiating symptoms, may be called cervicalgia.
The cervical spine is home to sensory organs and nerves, which means cervicalgia may be accompanied by other types of symptoms, too. The 2016 International Archives of Otorhinolaryngology study found dizziness to be very frequent, along with tinnitus, which is ringing in the ears; neck cracks and pops, hearing difficulties and symptoms relating to your cardiovascular system made the list, as well.4
Can You Get a Diagnosis of Cervicalgia?
Cervicalgia is a bit of a catch-all term. Its definition, according to the National Institutes of Health, is an alternative name for neck pain, neck stiffness and/or whiplash.
The ICD-10, which is the coding system most physicians and therapists use to bill insurance, does not give direct causes for cervicalgia—with the exception of disc disorder of the cervical spine. When discs are at the root of your cervicalgia, the IDC-10 code is M50. When the cause is not stated the code is M54.2. The ICD-10 coding for cervicalgia indicates that it can be either chronic or acute.
A 2011 study published in the Physical Medicine Rehabilitation Clinics of North America found that while it's generally difficult to pinpoint the structural cause of cervicalgia, doing so may help guide your treatment choices.6 The authors point out that the medical history you share with your doctor, particularly so-called red flags or yellow flag symptoms, can help her recognize the more serious causes of neck pain.
It's a good idea to be thorough and accurate about your symptoms when speaking with your health provider.
After the medical interview is complete, a physical exam will likely help confirm a diagnosis.
Cervicalgia and Your Psychological State
In a 2012 study published by the Academica Science Journal, looked at psychological disorders relative to cervicalgia, many cases of which were due to degenerative changes occurring in the cervical spine.7 In this study, a condition of cervicalgia was defined as a clinical syndrome usually associated with limited neck mobility and/or radiating pain in one or both arms. The radiating pain, the authors say, tends to be accompanied by the sensation of pins and needles in the fingers.
But there’s more to the story than just the physical symptoms. The research team found that mood changes, specifically anxiety8 and depression,9 are quite often part of the clinical picture.
Making strides towards symptom relief is easiest when your cervicalgia is not also accompanied by anxiety or depression, the researchers' comment. They also note that when neck pain is present early in a bout of cervical spondylosis, your risk for anxiety or depression may be higher.7
Cervicalgia, is, as mentioned above, a bit of a catch-all phrase for many types of neck pain. To that end, treatments may vary widely, and according to the exact cause.
If symptoms keep bothering you, especially if they last longer than a week, or if they seriously disrupt your regular routine, it's important to speak with your doctor as soon as you can.
Treatment for cervicalgia generally consists of pain medication such as acetaminophen (e.g.,Tylenol) or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (e.g., aspirin Aleve, or naprosyn, Motrin, or ibuprofen, etc.) physical therapy, short-term cognitive behavioral therapy to help manage pain triggers and your reaction to them, reduced activity and possibly wearing a collar to help stabilize the area.10
And don’t discount the role that holistic therapies might play in the healing of your neck pain. Acupuncture, easy yoga, easy Pilates, and Tai Chi have all helped many people get past cervicalgia. In fact, a 2017 study published in the journal Spine, found that neck pain