Neck pain, also called cervicalgia is a common condition with about 66% of the population having neck related pain at some point in their life. Though the pain is felt in the neck, sometimes it is caused by problems that are in the spine away from the neck. This pain might emanate from pinching of the nerves coming from the cervical vertebrae or then tightness of muscles in both the upper back and the neck. Joint disruption in the upper back and in the neck will result in pain experienced in the neck.
The most common areas that cause neck pain are the lower neck and the upper back which are responsible for the support of the head. Most of the movements of the neck and the head are allowed by the top 3 neck joints. The lower joints of the neck and those of the upper back combined make the supportive structure on which the head sits on. When this support structure is affected adversely, then the involved muscles will tighten and this is what results in neck pain.
Some patients will experience neck pain, while others will experience shoulder pain, in some cases, the condition may be characterized by pain in both the neck and the shoulders.
Neck pain symptoms
The most common symptoms of neck problems are pain and stiffness. The patient experiences pain on either sides or in the middle of the neck with some patients reporting pain in the shoulder, shoulder blade and some in the upper part of the chest.
In cases where the patient suffers from tension headaches, then the pain can travel to the back part of the head, behind the eyes or in the ears.
Moving might be painful because the muscles will feel tight especially when one has been in the same position for a long time. Most patients report limited twisting due to muscle tightness and pain. If the neck pain accompanied by stiffness come fast then the patient might be suffering from polymyalgia rheumatica and they should see a doctor as fast as possible since this condition requires urgent medical attention. In cases where the neck pain is accompanied by tingling and numbness down the arm and fingers, then this means that the condition is caused by a pinched nerve.
Some of the other symptoms include grating and clicking noises which are caused by moving surfaces grinding on each other as you move your head. Some patients have reported dizziness when turning their heads or when looking up. This is mostly caused by the pinching of vertebral arteries as a result of bone changes in the spine. Blackouts might be caused by pinched arteries though it is important that the patient sees a doctor since blackouts might be caused by other serious conditions.
In some cases, where there is intense neck pain, the patient might also experienced muscle spasm which may turn their heads to one side. This condition is referred to as acute wry neck, cervical dystonia or torticollis and is very unpleasant but rare and if it occurs it lasts for only a few hours or days and never goes for weeks.
Causes of Neck pain
Neck pain can be caused by the following factors:
- Joint or bone abnormalities
- Degenerative disease</li>
- Muscle strains
- Poor posture
Some of the severe causes of neck pain may include head and neck cancer, spinal stenosis, infections, spinal disc herniation, referred pain emanating from acute coronary syndrome, and carotid artery dissection. There are other causes which are lesser neck pain causes but are still common such as over use caused by muscular strain, whiplash, pinched nerve minor injuries and falls, and stress.
Albeit the causes of neck pain are many, most of them can be handled through self help advice or professional approaches.
Neck Pain Diagnosis
Doctors dealing with neck pain cases will use x-rays which will show narrowed spaces between spinal bones, tumors, fractures, spinal column instability, slipped discs and narrowed spinal canals. MRI or CT scans may be used to show problems associated with ligaments, tendons, and neural elements. Electrodiagnostic studies might be employed in the diagnosis of neck pain, numbness, arm pain and shoulder pain. The medical practitioner will also ask about the kind of pain experienced and how it occurs with an aim of getting the symptoms and matching them with the condition.
Neck pain Treatment
The treatment method and direction taken will heavily depend on the cause of the condition. Most of the patients suffering from neck pain can be treated using conservative methods. There are recommendations which will assist in the alleviation of pain including cold or heat application. Other treatment forms may include medication, ergonomic reform, physical therapy, body mechanics training and medication.
Neck Pain Conservative Treatment
Spinal adjustment also referred to as joint manipulation done separately or together with joint mobilization and proper exercise has been reported to assist in the management of chronic and acute neck disorders. Cervical mobilization and cervical manipulation will also provide short-term and immediate benefits though there are no long-term benefits recorded. Thoracic manipulation has been found to improve function and alleviate pain. For patients with acute pain, low level laser treatment has been found to reduce pain immediately after treatment.
NSAIDs or acetaminophen and other analgesics are recommended to deal with the pain. Muscle relaxants are commonly prescribed and are effective. Patients may also use over the counter patches and creams which will prove effective for some cases.
For mechanical causes of neck pain surgery is usually not an option. Surgery is only used when the pain is as a result of instability and diseases. Unless there is spinal cord or nerve compression, surgery is not used in treating neck pain
About 300 million people are affected by neck pain around the world, and this number accounts for about 4.9% of the world’s population. This condition is less common than low back pain and affects more women than men. If any symptoms of neck pain are experienced, it is important that an individual seeks medical attention for proper diagnosis and treatment.