Neck pain is a widely spread health issue and can appear in people of all ages.
When you think about it, your neck has a difficult job to do – it needs to support your head all day, every day. Sometimes even the slightest thing, like sleeping in a bad position, can cause serious neck issues.
If you often experience neck pain, you probably want to know what causes it and how you can deal with it fast and effectively.
Causes of neck pain
There are several causes of neck pain and the feeling of stiffness in it. In most cases, they are fairly simple and straightforward.
1. Muscle strain and tension
The tension in the neck can come from numerous causes, mostly from a bad posture while sitting or standing or sleeping in an awkward position. Also, you can experience muscle tension if you work at a desk for too long without taking a break and stretching or you could strain your neck muscles during exercise.
Being sensitive, the neck is prone to injuries due to a fall or an accident, whether it was a traffic accident or during a sports game. In these situations, muscles and ligaments in the neck are forced to move outside their usual range, which leads to an injury. Even carrying a heavy shoulder bag can lead to a minor injury.
3. Chronic issues
Chronic neck pain is usually caused by a chronic mechanical issue of joints or discs. The mechanical issue usually comes with age, when the discs and joints become worn over time.
However, there are also cervical spine conditions that affect the neck, as well as shoulders, head, and even arms.
- Cervical osteoarthritis – it leads to excessive friction of the joints in the neck, causing stiffness and pain.
- Cervical degenerative disc disease – in common words, it’s a simple wear-and-tear of the cervical spinal disc, causing mild chronic neck pain that can sometimes turn into high-level pain.
- Cervical herniated disc – if a disc leaks or bulges, it can lead to inflammation of the joints, which can also indirectly cause neck pain and stiffness.
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4. Other causes
In some cases, neck pain can be a symptom of:
- heart attack – it is usually followed by shortness of breath, nausea, sweating, or arm pain. If you experience these symptoms, go to the emergency room as soon as possible.
- meningitis – neck pain and fever can be accompanied by symptoms of meningitis, which is an inflammation of the tissue surrounding the brain. You need to seek medical assistance in this case.
If the pain is strong or it lasts for too long, or if you notice it is reappearing, it’s best to see a doctor. You may have to do additional tests first. Depending on the diagnosis, the treatment may include the following:
- therapy with ice and heat
- specific exercise and stretching. You will probably have to attend physical therapy for some time until you learn how to perform the exercises on your own.
- pain medication and even muscle relaxants if the pain is very intensive
- corticosteroid injections
- a neck collar or a traction
- In case of an infection, you could be given antibiotics or you could even be hospitalized if a serious health issue is at hand.
In addition to these forms of treatments, several other types can aid in relieving neck pain:
- spinal manual therapy – it is a type of spinal manipulation that treats neck pain and relieves chronic and acute pain in the lower back. As experts in Vitalis Physiotherapy highlight, you may hear a cracking noise while the physiotherapist is performing the therapy but that’s nothing to be concerned about. You will be relieved of pain and have increased movement in the neck.
- massage – a quality massage can improve blood circulation and help ease the pain and speed up the healing process.
- acupuncture – some people find it very helpful, so no harm in trying.
- chiropractic treatment – the important part is to find a reliable professional so that you don’t end up hurt even more afterward.
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While at home, you can try some of the following methods to relieve the pain to some extent:
- take a painkiller such as an acetaminophen or ibuprofen
- apply ice on the painful area, and then take a hot shower or apply a hot compress
- exercise your neck very slowly every day by slowly stretching it up and down and side to side
- refrain from sports and difficult physical activities for a few days to avoid aggravating the pain.
Neck pain prevention
It’s important to fix your posture to avoid future neck pain – your shoulders should be over your hips, and your head straight while sitting or standing.
When sitting at a desk, adjust the chair so that the monitor is at your eye level. Take a break to stretch for a couple of minutes every hour when working on a computer.
Try a different pillow if you wake up with neck pain – maybe a flat one does not suit you as well as the one with built-in neck support.
Neck pain does not have to be intensive to ruin the quality of your life – even minor neck pain can be very irritating if it’s frequent. So, it’s best to identify the cause and make sure you do everything you can to prevent it.