Nearly everyone suffers from neck pain at some point in their lives which makes it difficult to attribute to Lyme disease. Neck pain, neck stiffness, muscular aches and pains, and acute pain between the shoulder blades may be a feature of Lyme disease in some patients, with others also suffer headaches, facial palsy, muscle cramps and spasms, and altered mobility or sensation in the neck, back, and joints of the body. Patients with Lyme Borreliosis may develop neuroborreliosis where the infection spreads to the central nervous system. The symptoms of disseminated Lyme disease and neuroborreliosis can vary significantly as different nerves may be affected in different patients. Those with a pre-existing condition, nerve trauma, or particular susceptibility (predisposition) to neurological problems may suffer more extensive nerve damage or acute inflammation and nervous system dysfunction than those with a previously healthy nervous system.
Lyme neuroborreliosis is known to mimic many neurological diseases including Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, and others. This can make it very hard for a patient and their physician to ascertain if their neck pain is simply due to an awkward sleeping position, poor posture, uneven shoes, cervical spinal stenosis, or nerve inflammation and dysfunction from infection with Borrelia bacteria. Neck pain can also be a result of stress and tension which many patients experience whilst awaiting diagnosis and treatment for Lyme disease.
Symptoms of neuroborreliosis may begin as early as a week after a tick bite, with most cases occurring between one and five weeks following infection. Some patients may only begin to experience symptoms of neuroborreliosis after months of untreated infection, and even then such symptoms as Lyme disease neck pain may simply be dismissed due to the often transient and intermittent nature of the complaint. Neurological symptoms of Lyme disease are more commonly found in European patients, but they can also occur in those who have contracted Lyme disease in the US. The particular strain of Borrelia bacteria and Lyme disease morphology is thought to affect the type and severity of symptoms in patients.
Typically, neuroborreliosis symptoms begin as back pain, with acute pain between the shoulder blades and up into the neck. This may feel like a slipped disc or neuropathy from spinal stenosis or degenerative disc disease and patients with pre-existing spinal stenosis or a disc herniation or disc bulge may not seek medical attention immediately for such symptoms. The pain from neuroborreliosis tends to worsen at night and the patient may also experience abnormal sensations around the sit of the original tick bite(s) at this time. Numbness in the dermatome may occur, and many patients go on to develop Bell’s Palsy, where the facial nerves are affected. In a similar fashion to patients with Multiple Sclerosis, those suffering from facial palsy may accidentally bite their cheeks when chewing food, or begin to have difficulty moving the jaw naturally due to loss of nerve function. Neck pain may then occur as the disc in the temporomandibular joint can become strained or improperly positioned.
Meningitis, Lyme Disease, and Neck Pain
Meningitis symptoms may also arise in patients with neuroborreliosis, with acute inflammation of the nerves and spinal cord causing extreme neck stiffness, headaches, fever, and photosensitivity. Where such symptoms arise it is very important to seek immediate medical attention as inflammation of the spinal cord and the brain can be fatal if not treated successfully. Lyme disease neck pain may presage cognitive difficulties associated with Lyme neuroborreliosis, such as memory deficits, difficulties in concentrating, mood irregularities, hearing loss, dementia, or dysphagia. Again, the similarities with other diseases is clear and some unfortunate patients will be misdiagnosed and given inappropriate, and often expensive or dangerous treatment for a condition they do not have, all the while remaining untreated for a worsening Lyme disease infection.
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