Neck pain is a very common complaint. It is estimated that over two-thirds of adults will experience an episode of neck pain at some time. In most cases, neck pain is not serious and resolves within a few days. Isolated neck pain, or simple neck pain, describes pain felt in the neck and/or around the shoulders without spreading into the arms or down the spine towards the lower back..
Let's delve deeper into the causes of neck pain:
Muscle strain in the neck commonly occurs due to overuse of neck muscles, such as prolonged periods of holding the head in a fixed position (e.g., while working on a computer or reading), repetitive motions, or sudden movements that strain the muscles. Poor posture, such as slouching or holding the head forward, can place additional stress on the neck muscles, leading to strain and discomfort.
A muscle strain may present with symptoms such as localised pain, stiffness, tenderness, and limited range of motion in the neck. Practising good posture, taking frequent breaks from prolonged sitting or screen time, and performing neck stretches and strengthening exercises can help prevent muscle strain in the neck.
Traumatic events, such as car accidents, falls, or sports injuries, can result in neck injuries that cause pain and discomfort. One common type of neck injury is whiplash, which occurs when the head is suddenly jerked backward and then forward, causing strain on the neck muscles and ligaments.
Neck injuries may present with symptoms such as neck pain, stiffness, headaches, shoulder pain, numbness or tingling in the arms or hands, and difficulty moving the neck. Treatment for neck injuries may include rest, ice or heat therapy, pain medications, physical therapy, and in severe cases, immobilisation with a neck brace or collar.
Degenerative disorders of the spine, such as osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, and spinal stenosis, can lead to the breakdown of spinal structures and cause neck pain. Ageing, wear and tear on the spine over time, genetic factors, and lifestyle factors such as obesity or smoking can contribute to the development of degenerative spine conditions.
Degenerative disorders may present with symptoms such as neck pain, stiffness, reduced range of motion, radiating pain or numbness into the arms or hands, and muscle weakness. Treatment for degenerative spine conditions may include pain medications, physical therapy, corticosteroid injections, and in severe cases, surgical interventions to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.
A herniated disc occurs when the soft inner core of a spinal disc protrudes through the tough outer layer, pressing on nearby nerves and causing pain. In the cervical spine (neck), a herniated disc can cause neck pain as well as radiating pain, numbness, or weakness in the arms or hands. Factors that increase the risk of developing a herniated disc include age-related degeneration of the spinal discs, repetitive lifting or bending motions, obesity, and smoking.
Symptoms of a herniated disc in the neck may include neck pain, arm pain, numbness or tingling in the arms or hands, muscle weakness, and difficulty gripping objects. Treatment for a herniated disc may include rest, pain medications, physical therapy, corticosteroid injections, and in severe cases, surgical interventions to relieve pressure on the affected nerves.
Prolonged periods of sitting with improper posture, such as slouching or holding the head forward while using electronic devices, can contribute to neck pain. Poor ergonomics at workstations or during other activities can also strain the neck muscles and lead to discomfort.
Poor posture may lead to symptoms such as neck pain, stiffness, muscle tension, headaches, and reduced range of motion in the neck. Maintaining good posture while sitting, standing, and sleeping, using ergonomic furniture and equipment, taking regular breaks to stretch and move, and performing exercises to strengthen the neck and upper back muscles can help prevent neck pain associated with poor posture.
When assessing neck pain, healthcare professionals typically perform a thorough medical history and physical examination. Diagnostic tests may include:
Preventing neck pain
To prevent or reduce the risk of neck pain, individuals can incorporate the following strategies into their daily routines:
If you develop severe neck pain following an injury you should seek urgent medical attention. You should also seek urgent advice if your neck pain has any of the following associated features;
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and examine you. In the absence of any concerning features, you may be given advice regarding exercises to help relieve your symptoms in addition to simple pain medications. You may be referred to a physiotherapist in the first instance, depending upon the local services available. On occasions, depending upon your symptoms and your examination, you may be sent for further investigations which can include blood tests, X-Ray or MRI scans.
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