Your neck acts as a bridge between your body and the head. It carries blood vessels to and from the head. It also contains passageways for air and food. Thus, no wonder, you own a complex feat of engineering. Moreover, your neck has a complex interlocking structure. This interlocking structure consists of bones, joints, nerves, muscles, and tendons. Its main job is to hold the weight of your head which is about 5 kilograms. Not surprising that your neck causes pain and distress not only on some occasions but for few persons in an ongoing fashion. In this article, you will get information on symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of neck pain. But, first of all, let’s have a look at the structure of the neck and risk factors for your neck.
Structure of the neck
Neck pain arises when any mechanical or pathological harm occurs to your neck or nearby structures of your neck. The core physical structures in your neck are the 7-interlocking vertebrae. They are known as the cervical vertebrae and labeled as C1 up to C7. Atlas is the common name for C1 and is the nearest one to your head. It is followed by C2, which is also named as the Axis.
Each bone is connected to the next by facet joints. These are little joints between your vertebrae, that in contact with your neck muscles. They allow you to move your head in any way. Moreover, between your vertebrae are discs of cartilage. Your discs work as a shock absorbent and give your spine its flexibility. A slipped disc happens when one of the discs moves a little, out of its normal position in the spine.
You are at a higher risk for neck pain if any of the following conditions apply:
- You are a female
- You’re fat or obese
- Do smoking
- Facing osteoporosis
- You either do too much exercise or not at all
Other risk factors that may count are a low education level, living in urban areas, under 50, higher stress, and anxiety, or depression. Job nature also plays a big role in your neck and back pain risk. If you’re not satisfied with your job, or your job entails subjecting your body to vibration (doing loaded work), then you may have higher chances of neck and spine pain. Furthermore, office workers often get more neck pain than do other types of jobs.
Causes of Neck pain
Neck pain is a very common condition and most of us experience it at some points in our lives. Usually, neck pain arises when you let your neck in the same position for too long periods. However, other causes that may also contribute to neck pain are:
- tension or stress
- no fix sleeping time
- an accident
- a muscle strain or a muscle pull
- breakout of cervical spondylosis or degeneration; which can exist as the discs and joints in the backbone get aged.
Besides other causes, an accident can make your neck problem persistent. Many people feel a stiff and painful neck for no apparent reason. It may occur after sitting in a draught or after a minor injury. Thus, pains with no apparent reason are also known as non-specific neck pain. This is the most common kind of neck ache and typically disappears after some days. Moreover, if you keep gently moving your neck and take rest when you need, this can also reduce your problem. Now taking enough data about causes of neck pain, let’s go for its symptoms.
Symptoms of Neck pain
There are many ways to describe neck pain, many of which will depend on the causes. Furthermore, its symptoms may help your doctor for a diagnosis of chronic neck pain. Here are some symptoms of neck ache.
A spasm is a sudden, strong, involuntary contraction of your neck muscles. So, the surrounding muscles of the neck feel acute pain and stiffness. Therefore, you don’t feel easy in the neck movement. As a result, your neck’s range of motion gets slow and decreased.
Your neck muscles start aching and may have trigger points (hard knots) which are painful to touch. You often feel tenderness in the middle of the back of your neck. However, it may be on one side of the neck only.
Your neck muscles get tight. Moreover, keeping your neck in one position for prolonged times makes them even more tightly. Neck ache stiffness may make it hard to move your neck.
Neck ache can spread out to your arms and sometimes to your legs. You may have a feeling of needles or a tingling sensation in your arms. It may also be associated with numbness and weakness of nerves. You can’t often take a good sleep, as this condition usually gets worse at night.
Headache is one of the common symptoms along with neck pain. The headache is mostly felt at the back of your head and is known as Cervicogenic Headache.
Reduced range of motion
You experience a reduced range of motion when you are not able to turn your head properly to the side of each shoulder. Also, you may feel unable to yourself, that how to lower your head towards your chest. Along with this, you face the difficulty that how far you can tilt your head back.
Besides these symptoms, keep it in mind that current neck pains are acute. But, if your pain remains longer than three months, then it is chronic pain. The treatment for acute and chronic neck pain is very different from one another. When you know the causes and symptoms of your neck pain, now it’s time to see your doctor for a diagnosis.
Diagnosis of Neck pain
Your doctor may review your medical history and make a physical exam. Mild cases are often resolved on their own, that is they mostly required to determine the right treatment. Therefore, for proper diagnosis, it’s unlikely that you’ll need any specific test. Well, it all depends upon the severity of the disorder. So, your doctor may suggest you either have an x-ray, CT- scan, a blood test, or an MRI scan. After ruling out the severity of your neck pain, the doctor will step forward for your treatment.
Treatment of Neck pain
Simple self-care treatment and 1-2 days rest are often enough to get rid of neck pain. But, if you have an acute or ongoing neck problem, a doctor will recommend other treatments and therapies that might help. Some of them may include:
- The Alexander Technique (Using hands to gently adjust you into a proper upright position.)
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS: A low voltage electrical current to provide pain relief.)
- Radiofrequency denervation (An injection that uses heat to modify the function of the nerves.)
- Physical treatments (physical therapy and exercise)
- Manipulation of disorder
- Drug treatments
In addition to the above-mentioned treatments, if you still feel persistent pain, your doctor may also prescribe you for stronger painkillers.
How to ease neck pain at home
If you face minor neck ache or firmness, these simple home care methods may relieve you:
- Apply ice on your neck for the first few days. Following that apply heat by using heat pads, hot compress, or take hot showers.
- Take pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
- Just off the activities for a few days that intensify your symptoms like heavy lifting or sports too. When you resume normal activities, carry on slowly as your symptoms may ease.
- Take proper and regular exercise for the neck.
- Follow good neck posture.
- Don’t cradle your phone between the neck and shoulder.
- Alter your position often. Don’t stay in one position for too long.
- Apply a soft neck massage.
- Use a particular neck pillow.
Precaution: Don’t use a neck collar without your doctor’s consent. If you can’t use that properly, it may make your symptoms worse.
Exercises to manage neck pain
Neck ache is common and most cases don’t cause a serious problem. Your pain usually eases within 2-weeks. You also recover over about 4–6 weeks episodes. For this, you should do the possible exercises to help prevent the symptoms.
Keeping your body straight, just push your chin onward so that your throat remains stretch. Gently uptight your neck muscles and hold for 5-seconds. Bring your head to the center and then push it backward. Just keep your chin up. Hold for 5-seconds. Repeat it 5 times.
2-Neck tilts (side to side)
Tilt your head downwards to your shoulder. Move back your head to the center and repeat towards the opposite side. Repeat the process 5 times on each side.
3-Neck tilt down and up
Sit or stand. Slowly tilt your head down. Then, rest your chin on your chest. Gently uptight your neck and hold for 5-seconds. Follow the same procedure and tilt your head up. Repeat it 5- times.
Turn your head one side by keeping your chin at the leveled height. Gently uptight your neck muscles and hold for 5-seconds. Then, bring your head to the center. Repeat on the contrary side. Do it, 5-times on each side.
As discussed earlier that neck pain is common but most cases get better with rest. Tension, accident, and muscle strain are some causes of neck pain. These causes may arise in symptoms of muscle spasm, stiffness, numbness, or headache. These symptoms are pointer for you to see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of neck pain. The treatment may include medication, surgery, and physical therapy. You may also ease your neck pain at home by self-care.
Many people get neck problems due to poor posture and muscle strain. Stay active and taking bed rest for about a couple of days makes it hard to get going. So, you just gradually increase your common activities and do regular exercise. Moreover, you may take painkillers if required so you can stay active. But, if you have chronic neck ache or numbness in your arms, don’t take time to contact your doctor.