What is Neck Pain?
Neck pain, sometimes called cervical pain, refers to any discomfort felt in the neck. It may manifest as a mild annoyance or a serious pain. It also can arise from various causes. In fact, non-specific neck pain, which is due to a mechanical or postural issue, impacts about two-thirds of the general population at some point in their life 1. It’s a very common problem. It is further very rare that neck pain is due to something more serious, such as cancer or other conditions. Usually, acute neck pain resolves all by itself within a few days or weeks. Yet, it can develop into chronic neck pain.
In modern society, neck pain is frequently due to hunching over at your computer or from looking at your phone. When the head moves forward, it places unnecessary stress on the neck and surrounding structures 2. In some individuals, this creates a posture called ‘forward head posture.’ This type of strain on the neck is noticeable by the forward position of the head when compared to the neck. In certain cases, this type of posture can cause a decreased respiratory capacity 3. However, neck pain is frequently nothing to worry about. In this article, we’ll examine the symptoms of neck pain, when neck pain is serious, why neck pain occurs, and treatment to help resolve it. Let’s take a closer look!
What are the Symptoms of Neck Pain?
Usually, neck pain is isolated to one spot. Yet, it can create radiating pain down the shoulders or arms, depending on what is causing it. Common symptoms of neck pain include:
- Sharp pain.
- Pain that gets worse when holding your head in a certain position.
- Muscle spasms.
- Neural or radicular pain.
- Difficulty lifting objects or gripping them.
- Numbness and tingling.
- Decreased range of motion.
- Swollen lymph glands.
Some types of neck pain may also be associated with facial or shoulder pain and back pain. This may also arise due to neck pain caused by inflammatory conditions, specifically those impacting the spine. Further, you may have trouble sleeping due to your pain and discomfort. In severe neck pain cases, it may also disrupt your daily activities, such as working at a computer or putting on your clothes.
The onset of symptoms may also vary depending on the cause of your neck pain. It may gradually appear, as is the case if your neck pain is caused by poor posture. It may appear suddenly, such as when it is caused by injury. In some cases, there may be a delay between the cause of the pain and the onset of pain. Sneezing or coughing may also make the pain feel worse. Yet, typically, most types of neck pain improve with home care and rest.
When is Neck Pain Serious?
If neck pain is a result of injury, such as that in a motor vehicle accident, you should seek out immediate medical care. A 2006 study stated that a high amount of chronic neck pain causes are attributed to whiplash in a motor vehicle accident 4.
Occasionally, neck pain can also be a sign of a more serious condition, such as cancer, an autoimmune disease, infection, or another underlying injury. Generally, if your neck pain is persistent for more than six weeks, the pain is very severe, and it is associated with numbness or tingling, you should book a visit with your doctor.
Are Neck Pain and Sinus Pain Related?
Usually, sinusitis symptoms include nasal congestion, sneezing, headaches, fatigue, and facial pain 5. However, sphenoid sinusitis may cause neck pain as well. Thus, you could potentially have sinus pain and neck pain, and yes, they could be related.
Is Neck Pain Related to Stress?
Is stress the reason you’re experiencing increased neck pain? Surprisingly, chronic stress can lead to neck pain. In fact, a 2016 study discovered that neck pain was more common in nurses with high amounts of work-related stress 6. Stress can manifest in a variety of ways, physically and mentally, and this includes neck pain.
Will Neck Pain Cause Headaches?
Is your neck pain and frequent headaches related? Likely! This can be caused by irritated or aggravated muscles or tissues pulling on the head at the neck. Consequently, this can lead to increased tension across structures and muscles in the head leading to headaches. Remember, everything in the body is connected. However, this also doesn’t mean that because you’re experiencing neck pain and headaches that they are related. In some cases, they may be caused by separate entities.
Why is Neck Pain Worse at Night?
Neck pain may become worse at night due to your pillow and your sleep position. Sleeping on your side or your back is best for your neck, especially if you’re experiencing neck pain. Avoid sleeping on your stomach with your head turned to the side. Inevitably, this will lead to greater neck pain, soreness, and stiffness upon waking. It may also impact how well you sleep.
If your neck pain is only present when you wake up and it gradually improves during the day, you may need to consider getting a new pillow. It could actually be causing your neck pain problems. Try a memory foam pillow and make sure your pillow isn’t too high so that your neck and head are being pushed forward while you sleep.
When is Neck Pain Meningitis?
If your neck pain is accompanied by nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, headaches, confusion, light sensitivity, or cold hand and feet, you may have meningitis. Meningitis is inflammation of the spinal cord and brain membranes. This is frequently caused by infection and it may require antibiotics prescribed by a healthcare professional.
When is Neck Pain a Heart Attack?
According to the Heart Foundation, during a heart attack, pain or discomfort may arise in the neck 7. It may appear as a choking or burning sensation, and it spreads to your shoulders and chest. If this occurs alongside pressure or tightness in the chest, nausea, indigestion, heartburn, shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, or lightheadedness, you may be experiencing a heart attack. Seek out immediate emergency medical attention.
When is Neck Pain Cancer?
In rare cases, neck pain can be a sign of head or neck cancer. This is frequently a symptom along with a lump, soreness, or swelling in the neck.
How Does Neck Pain Occur?
There are numerous causes associated with neck pain. Common causes include:
- Degenerative disc disease.
- Neck strain.
- Cervical spondylosis.
- Spinal stenosis.
- Bad posture.
- Herniated disc.
- Pinched nerve.
- Infection causing swollen lymph nodes.
- Holding the neck in the same position for a long duration.
- Repetitive neck movements.
- Emotional stress.
Neck pain may also be caused by infection, such as meningitis, tuberculous, or an infection impacting the vertebrae, spinal bones. You are further at a higher risk of experiencing neck pain if you play contact sports, have been in a motor vehicle accident, or participate in other activities where a neck injury is more likely to occur.
How To Prevent Neck Pain
The first line of treatment is always prevention. If you can prevent pain before it happens, you don’t need to worry about it disrupting your life or your happiness. Many types of neck pain are related to age and wear and tear. As such, they are often preventable. It comes down to knowing what you should be aware of throughout your daily routine in order to prevent pain later on. What should you know?
Maintain good posture throughout your day. Setting alarms throughout your day can serve as quick reminders to check and adjust. Take breaks, especially if you work at a desk all day. Stretch it out or go for a walk every hour or two. If you smoke, quit. Smoking can impact your health in more ways than one. And it could be a contributing factor to neck pain. It also makes it harder for your body to heal any injury or problems in the body, which could lead to chronic pain. Set up your workspace in an ergonomically-friendly manner. Your screen should be at eye level, and your backrest, armrests, and other parts of your chair should be adjusted to fit you. Don’t carry heavy bags over one shoulder. If you must carry heavy items, distribute them evenly in a backpack, and balance the weight on both sides to avoid neck strain. Don’t hold your phone between your ear and your shoulder. This can also lead to neck strain and pain.
How To Treat Neck Pain
Treatment of your neck pain frequently depends on the root cause. When your neck pain just won’t go away, ensure you book an appointment with your doctor. However, many home remedies can help manage your neck pain and eliminate it. Neck pain doesn’t have to become your new normal. The following provides an overview treatment options for your neck pain.
Moving the neck can make your pain worse, especially if certain movements cause your pain in the first place. Avoid intense activity or any activity that may increase your pain. Some movements can help increase blood flow to the area and help stretch or strengthen the area, which may help in some cases, especially since a lack of movement may lead to increased stiffness or weakness.
2. Use Heat or Ice Therapy
Various studies have shown ice application to reduce inflammation and pain 8. Make sure you place a cloth in between the ice device and your skin. Aim to ice the area for 10-15 minutes, with 45 minutes in between applications. Heat can further help by increasing blood flow to the area and relaxing tight muscles. You may choose to alternate between the two, since both have their benefits.
3. Physiotherapy and Exercise
Physiotherapy and gentle exercises can help reduce and eliminate your pain. Your physio will often prescribe exercises suited to your specific situation. There is various evidence showing that strengthening exercises can improve non-specific neck pain 9. Further, gentle stretching can help reduce stiffness and improve range of motion and mobility. Frequently, exercises are recommended once initial pain has subsided.
4. Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers
For initial and acute neck pain, over-the-counter pain relievers may help manage your pain. You can try ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen. However, most of these medications should not be taken longer than 10-14 days, since they may cause side effects such as gastrointestinal issues.
5. Lifestyle Approaches and Changes
Many self-care methods can also help treat and prevent neck pain. When you take care of your general health, you’re less likely to experience pain. Some general lifestyle tips include:
Optimizing Your Sleep: Ensure you go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. This helps your body fall into a natural rhythm. Further, you want to ensure your sleep area is ideal for sleeping. It should be dark, cool, and quiet. You also want to set yourself up for success before your bedtime by participating in relaxing activities a few hours before bed.
Daily Movement: Ensuring your body is strong, healthy, and agile can prevent pain, as well as help you bounce back after an episode of pain. Regular physical activity is undeniably important for your overall health.
Support: In some cases, research shows social support contributes to less perceived pain 10. When you have friends or family supporting you, you may also recover faster.
Will Massage Help Neck Pain?
Massage isn’t only a wonderful way to relax. It also is an excellent part of routine health and wellness care. It further can help alleviate neck pain through improved range of motion, decreased pain, and decreased muscle tension. A 2013 study indicated that massage therapy is a viable treatment option for neck and shoulder pain with a significant number of individuals reporting improvements in their symptoms after massage therapy treatment 11.
Before seeking out massage therapy for your neck pain, it may be best to check with your doctor, especially if you’re experiencing any other symptoms besides pain in the neck. If your doctor agrees that massage therapy may be right for you, they will often refer you to a massage therapist. At your first appointment, you’ll undergo an initial assessment which will determine a treatment plan unique to you and your situation. Throughout your treatment, ensure you provide feedback to the massage therapist so they can adjust accordingly. You should never be in excruciating pain and if you are, let your therapist know.
Neck pain doesn’t have to stand in the way of your health and happiness. Take care of your general wellness and when neck pain arises, rest and find ways to relieve your pain. If it persists, book an appointment with your doctor. In turn, they might recommend massage therapy to help alleviate your discomfort.
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