What Causes Burning Pain in Neck?

Burning sensation is a kind of pain, which is different from stabbing, aching or dull pain. Burning pain is most often related to problem of nerves. However, there exist multiple other causes too. Autoimmune diseases, infections and injuries may trigger pain in nerves and may even result in nerve damage in some cases. You should visit your physician if you have burning sensation in your neck and are concerned about a medical condition.

What Are the Causes of Burning Sensation in Neck?

  1. Cervical Spondylosis (Neck Arthritis)

It is also called neck arthritis or cervical osteoarthritis. It is a condition related to age, which affects the discs and joints present in the neck. It results from degeneration or age related wear-and-tear of the bones and cartilage of the cervical spine.

The causes of cervical spondylosis are bone spurs, dehydration of spinal disks, herniation of disks, injury to the neck, stiffness of ligaments and overuse injury.

The symptoms of cervical spondylosis apart from burning pain in neck are pain in the arm and fingers, muscle weakness, which can make it difficult to lift arm or grasp objects. Other signs are stiffness in neck, headaches in back of neck and numbness and tingling in the arms and shoulders. Less frequent symptoms that require immediate medical intervention include loss of bowel or bladder control and loss of balance.

Treatment focus on relieving pain and helping you do your normal routine activities. The various nonsurgical methods used to treat cervical spondylosis are:

  • Physical therapy-It helps to stretch shoulder and neck muscles to make them stronger. Neck traction is also given to relieve pressure on nerve roots and cervical discs by increasing the space in between cervical joints.
  • Medicines- Your physician may prescribe medicines including muscle relaxants (cyclobenzaprine) to ease spasms of muscles, narcotics (hydrocodone) to relieve pain, anti-epileptic drugs (gabapentin) to ease pain due to damage caused by nerves and steroid injections (prednisone) to decrease inflammation of tissues and reduce pain.
  • Surgery: Surgery may be needed in cases that don’t respond to non-surgical treatments.
  1. Cervical Radiculopathy (Pinched Nerve)

Another cause of burning sensation in neck is cervical radiculopathy or pinched nerve. Cervical radiculopathy occurs due to compression of a nerve root in the neck occurring as a result of changes in the surrounding cartilage and bones from injury or wear and tear. Due to compression, the nerve root may get inflamed. The causes of radiculopathy are spinal disc herniation, bone spurs, trauma and aging.

The risk factors of radiculopathy are: osteoarthritis, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, poor posture, repetitive movements, and abnormalities of the spine such as scoliosis, pregnancy and family history of radiculopathy.

Symptoms of cervical radiculopathy are burning, tingling, weakness or loss of feeling in arm, shoulder, hand and finger; sharp, shooting pain that may aggravate with some movements, numbness, loss of reflexes and change in sensation.

Treatment: Treatment includes home care, medicines or surgery.

  • Home care- You will be advised to limit activities, which worsen your pain. You will be prescribed a brace, splint or neck collar (soft) for immobilization of the affected area. You may be advised bed rest for short term or treatment using mechanical traction. You may also be advised physical therapy, which may include cold and hot therapy and certain other treatments.
  • Medicines-Medicines prescribed for radiculopathy are analgesics, muscles relaxants, NSAIDs, oral corticosteroids, opioids (prescription) for severe pain and spinal corticosteroid injections.
  • Surgery-Surgery may be recommended if you don’t improve after 6-12 weeks of non-surgical treatment. During surgery, pressure is released from the affected nerve. One such surgery is discectomy during which bone spurs or some part of herniated disc are removed.

The majority of the people improve with non-surgical treatment. People who undergo surgery also improve after certain duration of recovery period.

  1. Shingles

Another condition that can cause burning sensation in neck is shingles or herpes zoster. It is a type of infection, which is caused by the same virus causing chickenpox- the VZ (varicella-zoster) virus. Once the chickenpox gets treated, the virus lives in your system for many years before it reactivate as herpes zoster. It usually reappears as a line of blisters on any one side of your body particularly on the neck, face or torso.

The initial symptoms are burning and pain, which is on one side of the body and in small areas. Pain is followed by a red colored rash. The characteristics of the rash are:

  • Red colored patches
  • Blisters that are filled with fluid and that easily break
  • Itching in the rash

In some people other symptoms may also occur. These are:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Weakness of muscles
  • Fatigue

Risk factors for developing shingles include:

  • Being of age 60 or more
  • Suffering from illnesses that lowers immunity such as cancer or AIDS
  • Having treatments such as chemotherapy
  • Taking medicines that weakens immunity such as steroidal drugs

Treatment: Shingles has no cure; however, medicine is prescribed to relieve symptoms and signs of the illness and shorten the duration of infection. Medicines prescribed are anti-virals such as acyclovir to decrease pain and speed up recovery, anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen to relieve pain and inflammation, narcotics and analgesics to decrease pain, antihistamines to relieve itching, numbing gels, patches or creams such as lidocaine to decrease pain and capsacin or Zostrix to decrease the risk of development of post-herpetic neuralgia.

You should take proper rest during the illness. You can apply wet and cold compress to shingles rash to decrease itching and pain. Apply calamine lotion to decrease itching. Shingles usually clear up within 2-3 weeks and recurs rarely.

  1. Whiplash

Whiplash is another reason for burning sensation in neck. Also called strain injury or cervical strain, it’s a type of soft-tissue injury affecting the neck. The most common cause of whiplash injury is a motor vehicle accident of rear-end collision type, which injures the ligaments and muscles of the neck, discs of the cervical spine, nerve roots going out of the spinal column and the joints between adjacent vertebrae (intervertebral joints).

Common symptoms and signs of whiplash injury are neck stiffness and burning pain in neck, dizziness, headache, memory loss, unusual sensations in arms, fatigue, difficulty in concentrating and depression.

Treatment: Usually over-the-counter painkillers such as aspirin or Tylenol are given for pain relief. Prescription pain killers may be given for more severe whiplash injuries. Physical therapy is also recommended. It is also recommended to apply ice and heat to the affected area. With proper care, the majority of the individuals who suffer from a whiplash recover within 3 months of injury.