Neck pain is one of the most common conditions we see in our community. Many causes are known for this body pain, such as osteoarthritis, pinched nerve, herniated disk, repetitive stress, and prolonged computer work.
While working with mobile, tablets, and laptops, poor posture can result in numbness or loss of strength in the arms or hands and even shoulders down to the arm.
However, neck pain can also be caused by trauma, inflammation, and sports injuries.
This article will discuss how neck pain might occur, what the symptoms are, and what treatments are available for this common body pain.
What Is Neck Pain?
Neck pain can describe feelings of heavy pressure, stiffness, reduced mobility, and neck pain and often includes tightness in the upper traps.
There are many causes and symptoms of neck pain. Here, we will explain a few of the most common conditions we see at the office regularly.
Possible Causes of Neck Pain
There is usually more than one reason which results in pain in the neck. Some of the most common reasons of neck pain are mentioned below:
- Muscle Strain or Tension
- Neck Injuries: Whiplash, Neck Sprain, Neck Fractures
- Nerve Compression or Pinched Nerves: Cervical Radiculopathy, Cervical Stenosis
- Poor Ergonomics
- Degenerative Conditions: Cervical Spondylosis, Disc Herniation
- Stress and Anxiety
- Overuse or Repetitive Strain
- Lifestyle Factors: Smoking, Physical Activity, Eating Habits
We have discussed some of these neck pain causes below on a random basis.
Injuries are often associated with a hit to the head from a fall or sports-related contact. However, sometimes, the sudden back-and-forth motion of the neck can also result in a whiplash injury without even hitting the head.
Injuries result in acute neck pain. When treated promptly, they recover faster, with fewer chances of long-lasting chronic neck pain following the injury.
Physically demanding jobs such as construction workers, factory workers, and electricians tend to experience this cause of neck pain more commonly.
Physical strain involves excessive exertion and force that surpasses our body’s threshold and tolerance for pain.
When you push yourself too hard, it’s known as overexertion. This involves physical or mental effort that’s beyond your current abilities.
Overexertion depends on many factors, such as your:
- medical history
- environment or workplace
- specific activity or task
This type of physical strain results in symptoms of stiffness, tightness, and pain in the neck. This cause is easily treatable with a combination of therapy and strengthening exercises to improve the neck musculature tolerance for physical demands.
Poor posture is a common cause of neck pain. Prolonged computer work, typing, and working on our mobile devices, tablets, or laptops result in a poor posture sustained for an extensive time.
In addition, the lack of mobility and frequent breaks result in tension building in the neck, which eventually results in feelings of stiffness and pain.
Aging is inevitable. However, aging is not a guaranteed explanation for pain and discomfort. If you have neck pain, don’t automatically blame it on age.
Sometimes, muscle tightness and joint restrictions are easily treatable despite your age. Other conditions like osteoarthritis can result in pain.
However, proper management of these conditions allows for significant pain relief and a slow progression.
Our neck is highly innervated. Many important neurovascular structures exit the neck and run down our shoulders and arms.
Compression to these structures via a disc bulge, fascial restriction, or a muscle pressing on them can make the nerve sensitive and cause numbness and tingling in the neck, shoulder, or down the arm.
The correct diagnosis of nerve compression is imperative to treat this condition as the treatment for the cause and source of this nerve compression varies greatly.
Cervical stenosis refers to a narrowing of the canal where the spinal cord resides.
Narrowing of the canal is often age-related and results when extra bone growth around the neck vertebrae narrows the canal. This narrowing can create compression on the cord or the nerves that exit the neck, creating symptoms similar to nerve compression.
Again, a correct diagnosis of this condition is imperative for an effective treatment plan and appropriate rehabilitation exercises to help reduce symptoms associated with cervical stenosis.
Common Symptoms of Neck Pain
Neck pain might reveal itself in the case of different symptoms, among which some are more common. We are going to discuss the most common symptoms of pain in the neck below:
Pain while Working with a Computer or Driving
This neck pain is related to repetitive overuse and physical strain. This type of neck pain has one of the best outcomes with therapy and home care incorporating stretches and rehab exercises.
Muscle Tightness and Spasms
The feeling of pressure, stiffness, tightness, and sometimes even spasms indicates that you may need to seek treatment for your neck pain.
Decreased Ability to Move the Head
Chronic neck stiffness and tightness can result in decreased mobility to the neck and loss of range of motion.
Acute neck pain often presents with more severe restricted mobility but tends to improve quickly with treatment.
Headaches, especially tension headaches, are among the most common symptoms of neck pain. Tight muscles, called the sub-occipital muscle group, are a big contributing factor to tension headaches and have a good prognosis with therapy.
The suboccipital muscles are a group of four muscles located in the posterior region of the neck, inferior to the occipital bone.
Sharp pain is more common in acute cases of neck pain. This pain can happen from trauma, sudden blows to the head, or waking up with a locked neck.
Sharp pain often indicates pinching of a structure, whether a nerve, joint capsule, or ligament.
When other red flags are ruled out, muscular causes of the sharp pain can be treated with manual therapy and appropriate stretching.
Radicular refers to pain from the nerve root. Nerve roots are where the nerves originate from the spinal cord.
If there is a compression at this level (very close to the spine), it can result in symptoms of numbness and, tingling and weakness in the arms.
This condition is more serious and less common than everyday stiffness. However, it still can be treated conservatively through chiropractic, physiotherapy, and massage therapy. The best treatment outcome is a multidisciplinary approach.
How Neck Pain is Diagnosed?
The neck area is one of the most common regions of the body to present with pain. Neck pain can have various underlying factors and causes.
The most common causes are related to muscles, joints, and ligaments. However, other more serious causes may also present as neck pain.
If you are experiencing neck pain, it is important to consult a qualified healthcare practitioner for a thorough evaluation and proper diagnosis for an appropriate treatment.
Diagnosing neck pain involves a comprehensive process to find the underlying causes and tailor an effective treatment specific to your condition.
A medical history is a thorough list of questions regarding the neck pain. It may involve questions such as the onset of pain, location, frequency, and intensity.
Furthermore, a medical history also involves questions about the individual’s medical background, such as previous medical conditions, medications, trauma hospitalizations, and more.
Your qualified healthcare professional must obtain a thorough medical history during the initial visit to ensure they can arrive at the most accurate diagnosis for your neck pain.
A physical examination is conducted after the medical history is obtained. Physical examination consists of various tests involving active and passive range of motion, strength testing, neurological testing, observation of posture and form, and relevant orthopedic testing.
In some instances, the medical history and physical examination may warrant obtaining further imaging tests to rule out or rule out certain medical conditions.
If this is the case, your doctor will order the appropriate tests. Some common medical imaging tests include:
X-rays are a common choice for initial imaging tests as they are quick, accessible, and allow us to visualize the bony structures and some soft tissue structures.
X-rays help diagnose fractures, degenerative changes of the bones, and arthritis.
A CT scan uses X-ray technology and computer processing to create a 3D image of the visualized area.
These images offer intricate views of various bodily components, including bones, joints, muscles, and organs, providing more detail than a conventional X-ray.
MRI relies on powerful magnetic fields and radio waves to generate highly detailed images of the body’s internal structures.
It is frequently the preferred choice for imaging of the nervous system, musculoskeletal system, and soft tissues and can help identify conditions such as herniated discs and nerve compression.
Additional examinations like blood tests might be recommended to investigate potential underlying medical conditions such as infections or autoimmune disorders. They may be prescribed solely or in conjunction with imaging tests.
Although most neck pains respond favorably to conservative care and non-invasive procedures, a small number of cases may require further testing.
If your neck pain is not responding to the initial treatments or is more complex than originally anticipated, you may be referred to a specialist.
A specialist, such as an orthopedic surgeon or a neurologist, will further evaluate your condition. They may order further tests or recommend surgery if warranted.
How to Prevent Neck Pain?
Neck pain can arise from various factors such as injuries, aging, poor posture, nerve compression, and more.
It’s important not to overlook neck pain as neck pain can often get worse over time or may indicate a more serious problem.
If you are experiencing neck pain symptoms, such as headache or decreased range of motion, contact a qualified healthcare professional for a thorough evaluation and assessment of your condition.
After you receive a proper diagnosis, a tailored neck pain treatment plan can be established, and an appropriate course of care can be recommended.
Treatments may involve consultations with specialists like chiropractors, physiotherapists, or massage therapists.