Neck or cervical pain is a common medical complaint. It is not a condition in itself but rather, a symptom of an underlying health problem. It can be due to straining from poor posture, degenerative disease, and other abnormalities in the soft tissues (muscles, ligaments, and nerves) and in the bones and disks of the spine.
What Causes Neck Pain?
The neck is composed of vertebrae that begin in the upper torso and ends at the base of the skull. Together with the ligaments, it’s the bony vertebrae and the muscles that provide stability to the spine. It’s also the bones, muscles, and ligaments of the neck that provide support to the head and allow motion. Hence, any abnormality, injury, or inflammation in these areas can lead to neck pain.
In many cases, neck pain isn’t a serious and can be relieved in just a few days. However, there are cases of neck pain that require the doctor’s attention. These are cases of neck pain that result from serious injury or illness.
Common Causes of Neck Pain
Neck pain can happen as a result of:
- Muscle tension and strain
This is one of the most common causes of neck pain or stiffness. It can result from poor posture or sleeping with the neck in a bad position.
The neck can be prone to injury because it is less protected than the rest of the spine.Vehicular accidents, contact sports, and falls can result in a neck injury. A neck injury can also happen from a sudden jerking movement of the head (also called as whiplash).
- Degenerative diseases
Neck pain is a common complaint of degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis and cervical disc disease. Cervical disc disease can happen when one or more of the cushioning discs of the neck starts to break down as a result of wear and tear.
Symptoms of Neck Pain
Headache, pain that worsens when the head is placed in one position for too long, decreased head mobility, and muscle tightness or spasm are the most common symptoms of neck pain.
Seeing a Doctor
In many cases, neck pain can be alleviated through simple home remedies such as the application of cold and warm compress, taking of over-the-counter pain medications, a gentle neck massage, and using of special neck pillow when sleeping.
You should see a doctor when symptoms of neck pain do not improve with these home remedies or when they get worse. Immediate medical attention is needed if neck pain worsens and persists for days, spreads down the arms or the legs, and is accompanied by numbness, tingling sensation, and headache.
Diagnosing and Managing Neck Pain
To determine the underlying cause of the pain, your doctor will take your medical history and perform a thorough physical assessment. On top of these, your doctor may also request for imaging studies and other tests such as X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, blood scans, electromyography, and a lumbar puncture.
Treatment for neck pain depends on the underlying cause. Some of the common ways of managing neck pain include ice and heat therapy, physical therapy, and use of pain medications and muscle relaxants. In some cases, corticosteroid injections, antibiotics, or surgery may be recommended.