Neck pain can be caused by any of the structures in the neck, including muscles, nerves, spinal vertebrae and the discs. Intervertebral discs are round, spongy pads of cartilage that are located in between the vertebrae and allow for flexibility. They act like shock absorbers as the neck moves.. Neck pain may also come from different regions near the neck, like the head, jaw, shoulder, and upper arms.
A common cause of neck pain is muscle strain or tension. Usually, everyday activities like bending over a desk for hours, poor posture, sleeping in an uncomfortable position, or twisting and turning the neck in a jarring manner while exercising.
Traumatic accidents or falls can cause severe neck injuries like vertebral fractures, whiplash, blood vessel injury, and even paralysis.
Other causes include herniated disc, fibromyalgia, and arthritis.
When your neck is sore, you may have difficulty moving it, especially to one side. Many describe this as having a stiff neck. If neck pain involves nerves you may feel numbness, tingling, or weakness in your forearm, arm, or hand.
A thorough medical history and physical exam can usually identify any conditions that may be associated with neck pain. The patient describes the onset, site, and severity of the pain; duration of symptoms and any limitations in movement; and history of previous episodes or any health conditions that might be related to the pain. The physician examines the neck and conduct neurologic tests to determine the cause of pain and appropriate treatment. Blood tests may also be ordered. Imaging tests may be necessary to diagnose possible sources of the pain.
A variety of diagnostic methods are available to confirm the cause of neck pain and they include X-ray imaging, Discography, Computerized tomography (CT), Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and Electro-diagnostic procedures include electromyography (EMG).
You can use relaxation techniques and regular exercise to prevent tension and stress to the neck muscles. Learn stretching exercises for your neck and upper body and stretch every day, especially before and after you exercise.
Always use good posture, especially if you sit at a desk all day. Keep your back supported while seated. Adjust your computer monitor to eye level to prevent you from continually looking up or down.
Adjust your sleeping positions. Make sure your pillow is comfortably supporting your head and neck. You may need a special neck pillow. Make sure your mattress is firm enough.
Use seat belts to prevent injuries such as whiplash injuries while driving.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Seek immediate medical help if you have a fever and headache, and your neck is so stiff that you cannot touch your chin to your chest. This may be meningitis, which is a very serious condition.
Call your health care provider if your symptoms do not go away in one week with self-care, such as taking regular doses of over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, applying hot compresses, heating pad or ice to the painful area(s).
Some neck pain can be treated without surgery. The goal of treatment is to restore proper function and strength to the neck, and prevent recurrence of the injury.
There are non-surgical treatments for neck pain. Treatment involves using over-the-counter pain medications and prescription drugs relievers to reduce discomfort and anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce inflammation. Patients should always check with a doctor before taking drugs for pain relief.
The use of cold and hot compresses may help reduce pain and inflammation and allow greater mobility for some individuals. Exercises and muscle stretching may be the most effective way to speed recovery from neck pain and help strengthen neck muscles.
In the most serious cases, when the condition does not respond to the above therapies, consider injections or even surgery to relieve pain caused by serious injuries.