I have terrible neck pain. What now?
November 21, 2010 6:56 AM   Subscribe

Deeply painful neck pain. Advice?

I woke up this morning with severe neck pain that starts at the base of my skull and travels down into my shoulders and upper back. Turning my head left and right hurts, but turning it to the left hurts far worse. Most of my pain is on my left side. Looking up is incredibly painful. I can touch my chin to my chest, but bringing it back up hurts.

The lymph node on my left side of my neck is swollen, and my left arm feels a little aching and tender. I can't lean over without pain on a 6 or 7 scale.

I intend to go to Urgent Care today, but I'd like to have some inkling of what I'm dealing with.

1) I've been having sinus problems and moderate headaches for the past few weeks. I've taken antibiotics and I currently take allergy medicines with acetaminophen. I do not have a headache this morning, though I had a bad one yesterday.
2) I do not feel particular hot or cold. I don't think I have a fever.
3) My ears fill incredibly full. They keep popping.

The only things I can think of are early flu, early meningitis, and a pinched nerve. Could it be flu/meningitis if the pain were mostly on one side and I didn't have the accompanying symptoms? I didn't do anything stressful yesterday that could have pinched a nerve.

I want to feel better and not infect my housemate/coworkers. I'd just like some advice as whether it could be flu (without fever), meningitis (without headache), or pinched nerve (without doing anything). I'm likely to have my housemate drive me to Urgent Care, though if I'm contagious I'll take the slower route and drive myself.

Obviously YANMD, but I'd like some advice all the same.
posted by omoikkiri to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
jesus that's a toughie. i had similar symptoms last year, and it turned out to be some minor degeneration of c6/c7 that was referring pain all over the place, including into my left tricep. i got lucky, it turns out i was unknowingly causing the pain through bad posture, and some pt/exercise/better posture has brought it under control. but who knows? i see an mri in your future, that's for sure. problem is, this could probably be a million things.
posted by facetious at 7:45 AM on November 21, 2010

I am not a doctor of any kind so definitely get yourself to the ER whatever happens and get it checked out ASAP. But I do get severe neck pain like you describe once a year or so-- generally it kicks in when I wake up, because I've slept on it wrong, it can be in the middle or more to one side or the other. I've had some old neck injuries but nothing in particular seems to set it off. It just seems the neck equivalent of your back going out. Acutely painful and scary but goes away after a couple of days. I can't say I've ever noticed lymph node swelling, but I don't tend to notice things like that. The ears thing can't say I've had either.

I've had various dealings with doctors over it, the first thing asked is if I have headache or high fever, and when I say neither they take meningitis off the table. If the docs can't find anything and it does turn out to be a neck bone/muscle thing, I've been through chiropractors, physio, what-have-you, the best thing that's worked for me is paying attention to my posture, yoga, and this book.

But don't drive yourself, for heaven's sake, if you can't turn your head! It seems more likely you'd hurt someone that way than by being driven, even if you are contagious.
posted by Erasmouse at 8:04 AM on November 21, 2010

Call the Dr. that prescribed your antibiotics and ask them. They are the only person that should be giving you advise now--not people on the internet that have never seen you, and probably never will.
posted by 6:1 at 8:06 AM on November 21, 2010

Could also be lymphoma. Definitely go to Urgent Care because we're all just guessing here and your symptoms are acute. There could be more symptoms that you don't think are relevant or haven't noticed yet, thus a real-life doctor to examine you is needed.

I'm sure we all have scary and not-scary anecdotes to share, but that would likely confuse the issue.
posted by jpeacock at 8:12 AM on November 21, 2010

make that ADVICE, not advise.
posted by 6:1 at 8:58 AM on November 21, 2010

I really think the only responsible answer to this question is go to a freaking doctor right now. You might be fine, you might die.

If you even suspect you might have meningitis you should know that you can go from no symptoms to dead in 24 hours. Complications include loss of limbs, brain damage and other fun things. Bacterial meningitis is always fatal if untreated. Viral meningitis is still has a very high risk of complications.

Go. Have your housemate drive you. If you can't turn your head, how can you drive? You might be contagous, you might not be. There is no way for us to know. The only thing we can do is point out things that might have simmilar symptoms and be less fatal than meningitis. Because such things exist does not mean you have them. HOWEVER you might still have meningitis, which can KILL you QUICKLY.
posted by fontophilic at 9:20 AM on November 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I hope you don't mind the insinuation (I'm a big hypochondriac myself), but looking at your posting history leads me to think you can probably relax a little about this. Odds are that you slept funny and have a sinus infection, not that you have a fatal disease that will kill you in the next ten minutes.

That said, obviously nobody can diagnose you over metafilter, least of all me, who couldn't diagnose my way out of a paper bag anyway. As always, better safe than sorry, so go to the urgent care clinic, but don't freak out too much.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 10:47 AM on November 21, 2010

I frequently have symptoms that are very similar to yours , and a few years ago was found to have a slipped disc in my spine which doctors said was causing the pain. THey also said there is basically nothing they could do, short of surgery (which may not help as I understand it). Sometimes the pain is very intense and lasts for days.

What helps: getting enough sleep (symptoms are often come about if I haven't been sleeping much) and exercise (of any kind, but things like yoga and swimming can be especially helpful). Those are really the only two things I've found to help.
posted by bearette at 4:49 PM on November 21, 2010

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