From a medical standpoint, vertebrae make up your neck, which extends from the skull to the upper torso. The shock between the bones is absorbed by the cervical disc. Your neck is supported by the bones, muscles, and ligaments, which also allow for motion. Any kind of injury or inflammation can cause neck stiffness and/or pain. A lot of people experience neck pain or stiffness occasionally.
In some cases, neck pain can be caused by injuries as a result of a fall or collision. In the vast majority of cases, neck pain can be relieved within a few days. However, there are also cases when neck pain can indicate a more serious health condition or illness, which requires a doctor visit. Therefore, it is highly important to determine what the neck pain is, what the causes and symptoms of neck pain are and how it can be treated properly.
What is neck pain?
In medical terms, your neck (also known as cervical spine) is a coordinated network of bones, joints, nerves, and muscles. It performs an essential function in terms of providing mobility and support for your head, hand and/or arm. Specialists claim that neck pain is a common complaint nowadays. Your neck muscles can be strained from poor posture. Neck pain can be also caused by osteoarthritis. Neck pain treatment and chronic neck pain treatment highly depends on the cause of this condition.
As was mentioned before, neck pain can be relieved within a few days or weeks. However, if a patient experiences this type of pain for several months, it might be a signal of a more serious health condition. In this case, the neck pain should be addressed immediately. The earlier the treatment starts the better results a patient will get.
What are the causes of neck pain?
Neck stiffness or pain can be a result of a variety of factors. The most common ones are shown below. A person might experience neck muscle tensions and/or strain because of the following activities or behaviors:
- Muscle strain and tension
- Working at the desk for a long period of time without changing the position
- Having a bad neck position while sleeping
- Jerking the neck during physical activities
- Poor posture
This is probably the most common cause of neck pain. Doctors say that it is extremely sensitive to injuries, especially during car accidents, falls, collisions. The aforementioned situations normally involve the muscles and ligaments of the neck to move outside the normal position. Additionally, if your neck bones fracture, the spinal cord might also get damaged. Whiplash is a term used for neck injury caused by a sudden jerking of the head.
It was determined that neck pain can be a symptom of a heart attack. However, it should be also combined with other symptoms of a heart attack, which are as follows:
- Extreme sweating
- Arm or jaw pain
- Shortness of breath
If you experience neck pain in combination with any of the aforementioned symptoms you should call the ambulance immediately.
In medical terms, meningitis is an inflammation of the thin tissue that surrounds the spinal cord and the brain. People who experience this illness also encounter a headache and fever along with a stiff neck. Doctors stress on the fact that meningitis might be fatal and is a medical emergency.
Other possible causes of neck pain can be as follows:
- Osteoarthritis: this is a condition that weakens bones and can cause small fractures. It generally occurs in knees and hands but can also happen in the neck.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: this illness causes swelling and pain of the joints and bone spurs.
- Spondylosis: your cervical discs can degenerate as you age. It is called spondylosis or osteoarthritis of the neck. This condition tends to narrow the space between the vertebrae. Apart from that, it puts additional pressure on your joints.
- Fibromyalgia: this is an illness that leads to muscle pain throughout the whole body, especially in the shoulder and neck area.
- Spinal stenosis: this condition happens when the spinal column narrows and causes pressure on the spinal cord or the nerve roots as it exits the vertebrae. It can be a result of long-term inflammation caused by arthritis.
- Herniated cervical disk: it is also known as a ruptured or slipped and occurs when a disk protrudes, thus adding pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots.
What are the possible treatment options?
Before the neck pain treatment or chronic neck pain treatment is designed, a doctor will have a look at your medical history and perform a physical exam. During this stage, you need to be able to tell all the symptoms that you have encountered during the past few days or weeks. It is also important to recall all the medications and supplements that you have been taking or currently using to get pain relief (even the ones that do not seem related). Your specialist will also ask you whether you have had any injuries or accidents in the past couple of weeks.
Before creating a personalized chronic neck pain treatment plan, your doctor might also ask you to go through some imaging studies and tests in order to better determine the cause of the neck pain. Some of these studies and tests are as follows:
- CT scans
- Blood tests
- MRI scans
- Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
After receiving the results of the examination, your doctor will be able to state the diagnosis and prepare a personalized neck pain treatment or chronic neck pain treatment plan. Some of the treatments might include the following:
- Ice and heat therapy
- Pain medication
- Muscle relaxants
- Stretching, exercising and/or physical therapy
- Neck collar
- Antibiotics in case of an infection
However, there are also cases when hospital treatment is required. This normally when the cause of pain is a heart attack or meningitis. In addition to that, surgery might be needed if the cause of the problem is a serious injury.
Patients might also go for alternative therapies that include:
- Chiropractic treatment
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
You can also practice chronic neck pain treatment at home with the use of the following recommendations:
- Use over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
- Do not get involved in sports for a few days or any other activity that aggravate the symptoms. When you decide to resume your regular activities, it should be done slowly.
- Make sure you exercise your neck on a daily basis. Do not forget about stretching exercises by making use of side-to-side and up-and-down motions
- Maintain good posture
- Do not cradle the phone between the neck and shoulder
- Make use of a gentle neck massage
- Buy a special neck pillow for sleeping
- Avoid using a neck collar or brace with the doctor’s approval. Its incorrect usage can make the symptoms even worse
When is it time to visit a doctor?
As was mentioned previously, neck pain relieves within a couple of days or weeks. Although, if the symptoms continue for more than a month you should make an appointment with the doctor. It should be also done if you encounter the following:
- Lump in the neck
- Fever along with neck pain
- Swollen glands
- Troubles with breathing and/or swallowing
- Bowel or bladder dysfunction
- Inability to touch the chin to the chest