What is causing it?
Unfortunately, you’ve probably experienced neck pain at some point in your life, which means you know how much it can hurt. If you’re aching, your primary concern is to get it to stop. How can you do this? What causes the soreness in the first place? Are there things you can do to prevent the discomfort?
Neck pain is a prevalent problem that many people experience. Your neck is designed to support the weight of your head while remaining flexible. Unfortunately, this makes it vulnerable to injuries and disorders that result in pain and can limit movement. One of the most common reasons for neck pain is muscle strain, which is often the result of overuse. This can be from hunching over your computer, reading while not sitting with the correct posture, or tensing your jaw.
Another common explanation for neck pain is an injury that strains the soft tissues of the neck, such as a whiplash that occurs during an automobile collision. Some diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis, or cancer, can also cause neck pain. As you age, your neck joints wear down just like other joints in your body. Osteoarthritis triggers the cartilage between the bones in your neck (vertebrae) to break down, resulting in bone spurs that affect the joint’s ability to move and produce pain. Sometimes, the disks between your vertebrae bulge (or become herniated), which puts pressure on the nerves bringing about pain.
Symptoms of neck pain are muscle tightness/spasms, decreased ability to move your head, headache, or pain that worsens if you hold your head in one place for long periods. If your pain results from an injury, like a car crash, diving accident, or fall, you should seek immediate medical attention. If your pain is severe, lasts for several days without relief, goes down your arms/legs, or you have a headache with numbness, weakness, or tingling, you should contact your doctor.
Most neck pain that is mild to moderate can be treated at home and will go away in two to three weeks. There are several things that you can do to gain relief. The first is to reduce the inflammation by applying a cold pack for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. You can alternate this with heat from a warm shower or a heating pad on a low setting. Another way to reduce inflammation is to use over-the-counter pain relievers, like ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen. Once the worst of the pain is gone, you should start doing gentle stretching exercises every day. If you’re unsure how to do this, a doctor or physical therapist can teach you the proper techniques.
If you’re not getting any relief from over-the-counter medication, your doctor can prescribe something stronger. They will also recommend physical therapy since this will help correct your posture and improve your alignment as it strengthens your neck muscles, which should help you heal and reduce the chances of having another episode of neck pain.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) involves placing electrodes on your skin near the painful areas and delivering tiny electrical impulses to eliminate the pain. Traction is when weights, pulleys, or an air bladder are used to gently stretch your neck (this must be done under a doctor’s or physical therapist’s supervision). Some individuals benefit from using a soft collar that immobilizes their neck for a short period. It’s best to wear it for no more than two to three hours and not for more than one to two weeks; otherwise, it might cause more damage.
An additional treatment option is receiving steroid injections near the nerve roots, in the small facet joints in the bones in your neck, or in the muscles in your neck. Alternative medicine treatments include acupuncture, chiropractic care, or massage. Some people find relief with these but talk to your doctor to ensure it’s a good option for you.
Since most neck pain is related to poor posture and age-related changes, the best way to prevent it is through small changes that become new habits. The most important is to have good posture when sitting or standing. To do this, keep your shoulders straight over your hips and your ears centered over your shoulders. If you work at a desk, it’s a good idea to adjust your desk, chair, and computer so that the monitor is at eye level and your knees are slightly lower than your hips. Also, use a headset or speakerphone when using the phone instead of tucking it between your shoulder and ear. It’s vital to take frequent breaks to get up and move around, whether at work or traveling long distances.
In addition, don’t carry heavy bags on your shoulders since this strains your neck. Another consideration is how you sleep. Your head and neck need to be aligned with your body, so place a small pillow under your neck and sleep on your back with your thighs on pillows to reduce the strain. If you smoke, you should quit since it increases your chances of developing neck pain.
Neck pain is not only annoying but can be incredibly uncomfortable. By taking the necessary steps to prevent it, you won’t have to worry about it. If you have any questions or concerns about neck pain, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit the American Association of Neurological Surgeons’ neck pain page at https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Neck-Pain