Neck Pain | Cervical Disc Injury | Nucleus Health
The Orthopedist & Neck Pain Specialist
If you have neck pain, an orthopedist may be the right specialist to see. An orthopedist is a highly trained surgeon, knowledgeable about the skeleton and its structures.
By Dennis Thompson Jr.
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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When it comes to treating neck pain, many patients consider orthopedic care the gold standard. That's because orthopedists are specifically trained to deal with problems involving the musculoskeletal system — the network of muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, and bones that support your body and allow movement — problems within the musculoskeletal system often cause neck pain.
At the Orthopedist's Office: Specialized Training
Orthopedists, also referred to as orthopedic surgeons, are medical doctors with extensive training. A typical orthopedist has completed up to 14 years of formal education, including college, medical school, and five years of postgraduate work including residency at a major medical center, with the option for further specialization in a field like pediatric orthopedics, sports medicine, or a certain area of the body, such as the spine or knee.
To find an orthopedist, first ask your primary care physician for a referral. You also can go to, the Web site of the , the professional association for orthopedists, where you will find a searchable database.
At the Orthopedist: Getting a Diagnosis
The cervical spine (the neck portion) is made up of vertebrae (bones), disks (shock-absorbing tissue between the vertebrae), ligaments (thick, band-like tissue that connects the bones), muscles, spinal cord, and nerves. Neck pain can result from injury to or an abnormality of any of these structures.
To diagnose the cause of your neck pain, your orthopedist will:
- Get your complete medical history, including any previous problems you've had with your neck and any other illnesses or injuries that might have contributed to your current situation
- Perform a physical examination that can include an evaluation of your neck motion and how severe your neck pain has become
- Possibly test the function of the nerves and muscles in your arms and legs to see if there are nerve problems related in your neck pain
- Consider ordering X-rays or other imaging procedures to evaluate the bones, disks, spinal cord, nerve roots, and muscles in your neck, as well as blood tests
At the Orthopedist: Getting Treatment
After the cause of your neck pain has been established, your orthopedist will recommend a course of treatment that may include:
- Rest.Much of the time, neck pain can be resolved, at least in part, just by resting for a few days and being careful not to engage in activities that strain neck muscles, joints, or ligaments.
- Medication.Drugs to reduce inflammation, relax muscles, and relieve pain are also among the most effective treatments for neck pain.
- Immobilization.To help you heal and prevent re-injury, your orthopedist might recommend that you wear a neck brace for a certain amount of time.
- Physical therapy and exercise.Your orthopedist might refer you to a physical therapist who will customize a program of stretching and strengthening to relieve your neck pain and help prevent future problems.
- Surgery.In rare cases, the orthopedist might recommend surgery. This may be necessary if you've suffered a herniated disk (the disk protrudes outward) in your spine or if some other problem is putting pressure on your spinal cord or nerve roots.
To ensure that your neck condition is properly treated, it’s important that you follow your orthopedist's instructions closely, resting and taking medication as recommended.
Video: Physical Therapy for the Neck : Stretching & Relaxation for Neck Physical Therapy
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