Neck Pain

1 What is Neck Pain?

Neck pain is one of the most common body aches. It is often caused by strained neck muscles due to poor posture. In rare cases, neck pain is caused by a more complex health problem. 

In case of neck pain with shooting pain down the arm, loss of strength in the hands and arms, or feeling of numbness, see your doctor right away.

2 Symptoms

Neck pain symptoms may include:

  • Muscle tightness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Headache
  • Decreased ability or experiencing pain when moving the head

Most neck pain improves without requiring medical attention. If symptoms persist for several days, or if the pain is accompanied by muscle weakness, numbness, and headache, see a doctor. 

If the neck pain is resulted by an injury caused by a fall, accident, etc., go to the hospital immediately.

3 Causes

Neck pain can be caused by many different factors. These include:

  • Worn out joints. The neck is similar to other joints of the body - it tends to age and become prone to wear. Age can also be a factor of having Osteoarthritis, which causes the cartilage between the bones to weaken and deteriorate.
  • Muscle strains. Overusing the neck muscle can strain it, which can cause pain. Sitting hunched or having poor posture, and even simple things like gritting your teeth or sleeping can cause muscle strain.
  • Nerve compression. Certain minor abnormalities like bone spurs in the neck vertebrae may cause pain. 
  • Injuries. Whiplash injury, or injury that is caused by the rapid jerking the head backward and forward, may strain the tissues of the neck.
  • Diseases. Neck pain can also be caused by certain diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis and even cancer.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Your doctor will make a diagnosis of neck pain by reviewing your medical history. A physical examination is also necessary.

Minor neck pain usually go away after a day or so, but if it doesn’t subside after a couple of days, or if the pain is unbearable or is possibly caused by an injury, seek a doctor’s help immediately. 

Your doctor may ask you to go to a specialist. It could be a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation, a rheumatologist, a neurologist, or an orthopedic surgeon. The type of specialist doctor to see depends on your symptoms and possible causes of pain. 

Before going to the doctor’s office, you may want to list down the following to make the most out of your visit:

  • Your symptoms and when did they start
  • Whether or not you have a possible neck injury and when did it happen
  • Are there any instances when pain is lessened or become more severe
  • The medications you have taken to alleviate the pain

The doctor will check if there’s tenderness around the neck and shoulder areas, and if you are feeling numb or weak. He or she may perform imaging tests, such as:

An imaging test is necessary because it is possible to have problems in your neck structure and still do not feel severe pain. 

Apart from the test mentioned above, your doctor may also suggest Electromyography, especially if a pinched nerve is suspected. A blood test is sometimes necessary to rule out inflammation and infection.

5 Treatment

Most types of neck pains, including a stiff neck, respond positively to self-care in two weeks time and do not need any specific treatment. However, if neck pain does not seem to subside, or becomes unbearable, treatment might be necessary. 

Your doctor may suggest oral medications, physical therapy, nerve stimulation, traction, or short term immobilization. The choice of treatment depends on the severity of the case and the general cause of pain.

Medications. If over-the-counter medicines won’t work, your doctor may give you a stronger pain reliever, muscle relaxants, or antidepressants to help with the pain.

Therapy. Depending on your case, your doctor may advise that you undergo some form of therapy. It could be physical therapy, TENS (Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), traction, or a combination of any. 

Short-term immobilization. Involves wearing of neck collar or brace for short periods of time to help relieve the muscle from pressure and pain.

Steroid injections. Moderate to severe neck pain may require Corticosteroid injections, which are injected into the nerve roots of spine or right into the neck’s muscles. Apart from steroids, lidocaine is sometimes used to numb the pain.

Surgery. While rarely needed, some patients may require a surgery if there’s abnormality with the nerve root or if there is compression in the spinal cord.

6 Prevention

Neck pain is really easy to prevent, except when it is caused by an accident injury. Most of the time, neck pain is a result of poor posture and age-related factors. Keeping your head centered over the spine can help prevent this, as well. 

To help prevent neck pain, try doing these things:

  • Maintain a good posture. Make sure to always keep your shoulders and hips aligned when sitting and standing. A good measure is to also keep your ears directly straight over your shoulder. 
  • Proper spine positioning keeps you from having aches and pain associated with poor posture.
  • Take a break. If you sit in front of the computer or office desk for hours, or if you drive or travel long distances, it is important to stop once in a while and stand up. 
  • Stretch your arms and move your neck. Moreover, make sure to have your computer monitor within eye level, to prevent any strain on your shoulders and neck caused by leaning forward. 
  • Quit smoking. Smokers have a higher risk of experiencing neck pain
  • Maintain a good, relaxed position when sleeping. Keep your neck and head aligned with the rest of your body. If it helps, you may use a neck pillow.

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Renedies

Alternative remedies are available to help ease neck pain. If you want to try them, talk to your doctor about their possible risks and benefits.

Alternative neck pain treatments include:

  • Massage. While there is little to no evidence showing that massage can actually help treat neck pain, it may still provide short-term relief.
  • Acupuncture. This age-old remedy involves inserting thin needles into the body’s healing points. There are several studies to back up acupuncture as an effective way to alleviate pain. Acupuncture is considered safe and effective if done by a licensed professional.
  • Chiropraction. Chiropractic therapy can help provide relief from neck pain. The chiropractor, or chiropractic practitioner, focuses on the spine, which is applied with abrupt but controlled force. For most people, this can greatly help with only minimal risk.

8 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle modifications are necessary in order to cope with neck pain.

Neck pain,if not severe and caused by an injury, can be easily managed using pain relievers, hot and cold compress, and home exercises. 

Over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, and acetaminophen can help alleviate the pain.

Applying cold and hot compress alternately for several times a day can relieve pain, as well.