Persistent Neck Pain in Women - Is It Parkinson's Disease?

Neck Pain Senior. Credit: Media for Medical / Contributor / Getty Images

Question: Is ongoing neck pain in women a possible sign of early Parkinson's disease?

Answer: It can be, but there are also many other possible causes for neck pain, regardless of whether you're a woman or a man. Your neck is a particularly vulnerable part of your body, and pain in that area can result from muscle strain, injury, arthritis and several different diseases, some of which (like Parkinson's) may be serious.

If you have persistent neck pain, you should see your doctor. She hopefully can pinpoint the cause of the pain, which will determine how it should be treated. If it is Parkinson's disease, there are effective medications to manage your symptoms.

Could Neck Pain Mean Parkinson's?

There's no doubt that Parkinson's disease can cause pain — if you do have the condition, you'll almost certainly experience stiff joints and all kinds of muscle cramps, along with other symptoms. Most of these will occur because Parkinson's makes your muscles tight and rigid.

Cramps and pain are most common in the muscles in your back, neck and calf. You may also experience burning and tingling in your muscles, or even restless leg syndrome.

Women with Parkinson's disease report neck pain as their third most common symptom at the start of the disease (it comes in after classic signs of the condition like shaking hands and slow movement).

Therefore, ongoing neck pain may be an early warning sign of Parkinson's in some women.

Only around 10% of people with Parkinson's experience pain as their very first symptom of the condition — in most cases, the pain comes with other symptoms. Overall, though, about 30% to 50% of Parkinson's patients experience pain at some point over the course of their illness, so it is a pretty common problem.

Talking to Your Doctor

How do you know if your neck pain is potentially related to early signs of Parkinson's disease?

You can't know for sure, but you and your doctor can explore the issue. If your neck pain is accompanied by any of the other early warning signs of the condition, such as stiff shoulder, cramped handwriting, hand tremor, reduced arm swing, and shuffling gait, then it becomes more likely that you may have Parkinson's disease.

If you have one or more of these symptoms, you should speak to a neurologist about them. Early identification may allow doctors to slow the progression of the disease if in fact you do have the disease.

Sources:

Defazio G et al. Pain as a nonmotor symptom of Parkinson disease: evidence from a case-control study. Archives of Neurology. 2008 Sep;65(9):1191-4.

Drake DF, Harkins S, Qutubuddin A (2005) Pain in Parkinson's disease: Pathology to treatment, medication to deep brain stimulation. NeuroReb 20:335 341.

Ford, B. and Pfeiffer, R.F. (2005). Pain syndromes and disorders of sensation. In: Parkinson’s Disease and nonmotor dysfunction. R.F. Pfeiffer and I. Bodis-Wollner (Eds). Humana Press, Totowa, New Jersey. Pps. 255-270.

Rezak M. Is Pain a Symptom of Parkinson's Disease? American Parkinson Disease Association website. Accessed Feb. 26, 2016.

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