Treating Neck Pain: The Role of a Neurologist

Neurologists are medical doctors who specialize in treating diseases and disorders of the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and muscles. Here are some of the main ways a neurologist can help diagnose and treat neck pain:

Diagnosing the Underlying Cause

A neurologist will perform a thorough medical history and physical exam to help determine what is causing neck pain and pinpoint its location. They may order diagnostic tests like x-rays, MRI scans, CT scans, or electrodiagnostic tests to look at the cervical spine and nerve function. These tests can detect issues like herniated discs, pinched nerves, spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal), arthritis, or injuries. The neurologist will analyze results to reach a definitive diagnosis.

Treating Cervical Radiculopathy

If tests reveal cervical radiculopathy, where a herniated disc or bone spur is irritating a cervical nerve, the neurologist can provide treatment options. Mild radiculopathy may respond to rest, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, or steroid injections. But severe cases may require surgery to remove pressure on the nerve. The neurologist can refer the patient to a spine surgeon if warranted or provide nonsurgical treatments to help manage pain and other symptoms.

Considering Other Neurological Causes

Sometimes neck pain results from underlying neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), cervical dystonia, or Parkinson’s disease. A neurologist can recognize subtle signs and symptoms that point to these conditions. Appropriate treatment can then be provided through medications, physical therapy, Botox injections, deep brain stimulation, or other interventions and specialty referrals.

Providing Pain Management

Neurologists receive dedicated training in various pharmacological and interventional approaches for controlling pain. For neck pain not relieved by conservative measures, they may prescribe medications like muscle relaxants, NSAIDs, topical agents, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, or opioids in appropriate cases. The neurologist can also perform cervical epidural steroid injections, nerve block procedures, Botox injections, or spinal cord stimulation to reduce pain signals.

Offering Physical Therapy

Neurologists can provide referrals for physical therapy which uses targeted exercises, mobilization techniques, traction, and other hands-on treatments to improve neck mobility and strengthen cervical muscles. Following a physical therapy regimen under the guidance of a neurologist and therapist can help manage symptoms long-term.

As nerve experts, neurologists play an important role in evaluating and treating neck pain stemming from neurological disorders or impingement. Their broad medical background, diagnostic testing, pain management skills, and expertise in range of motion issues make neurologists a key provider for more chronic or complex cases of neck pain.