Also known as cervicalgia, neck pain is discomfort in any neck structure. It usually occurs when the spine is stressed by poor body mechanics, disease, injury, or wear and tear. Neck pain can range from a stiff neck and severe pain to a dull ache and mild tenderness. Neck pain can be a distressing experience since it prevents you from making even simple head movements. Acute neck pain can radiate to the head, hands, arms, or shoulders.
Individuals who experience neck pain always complain of tightness or stiffness in the neck muscles. The pain could escalate if you engage in strenuous activities like working on the computer and bending over a desk for a long time. If not treated, neck pain can greatly reduce your quality of life and interfere with your daily duties. Contact our Las Vegas physical therapists at Suarez Physical Therapy if you have neck pain to help you alleviate the associated agony.
Leading Causes Of Neck Pains
Neck pain can result from many factors. The possible causes of neck pain include:
Advancement In Age
As you advance in age, natural wear, and tear can cause parts of your cervical spine to degenerate or deteriorate, causing pain. Degenerative conditions like spinal stenosis and osteoarthritis can cause neck pain.
Spinal stenosis is common in individuals over the age of 50. Spinal stenosis occurs when the space surrounding the spinal cord is too narrow. This causes irritation, compression, or pinching on the spinal cord or the nerves that branch off it. This can lead to neck pain and other nerve problems.
Masses in your neck, including bone spurs, cysts, and tumors, can exert pressure on the nerves, causing pain.
Trauma and other injuries can damage vertebral joints, disks, ligaments, muscles, and nerve roots in your spinal cord, causing neck pain. For example, a common injury during a car accident that can cause neck pain is whiplash. Whiplash is an injury that occurs when sudden movement or force strains your spine and neck, damaging nerves, ligaments, bones, and muscles. It is short-lived and treatable, but some people could experience pain for months or years.
Stress involves mental and physical responses to threats or pressure. It has several effects on health, including high muscle tension that can cause stiffness and pain in the neck and other parts of the body. Stress can also affect your way of processing pain. Stress usually contributes to a phenomenon called remote hyperalgesia. Remote hyperalgesia can make you more sensitive to pain sensations.
You can suffer stiffness and neck pain if you overuse your neck muscles during strenuous or repetitive activities. Heavier body weight, weak abdominal muscles, and poor posture can affect the alignment of your spine and lead to neck pain. Generally, a common cause of neck pain is straining your neck to view a computer screen for long periods.
A pinched nerve is a nerve that is compressed. Many pinched nerves originate in the neck, lower, or upper middle back. You can suffer neck pain because of a pinched nerve in the cervical spine.
People of any age can suffer from pinched nerves. Adults 50 and older are likely to suffer pinched nerves because of arthritis. These individuals can also suffer pinched nerves because of degeneration in the spine and other body parts. Other causes of a pinched nerve include:
- High levels of sugar in the blood.
- Pregnancy leads to extra weight that can cause nerve compression.
- Obesity can cause the nerve pathway to swell, exerting pressure on the nerves.
- Repetitive motions like typing on a keyboard for a long time.
- An accident or sudden injury from sports.
Also known as a bulging, ruptured, or slipped disk, a herniated disk is one of the most common causes of neck pain. A herniated disk is an injury to the spine. A human has vertebrae in the spine stretching from the head to the tailbone. Disks are located within the vertebrae and act as buffers between a person's bones, allowing him/her to move and bend easily. You could therefore suffer a herniated disk if one of these disks leaks or tears.
People aged 30 to 50 could easily experience herniated disks, and men are more affected than women. Other causes of a herniated disk include:
- Repetitive twisting or bending motions for hobbies, sports, or work.
- Lifting heavy loads.
- Sitting in the same position for a long time.
Also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD), osteoarthritis is a common type of arthritis. It causes inflammation and injury to the neck joints. It causes bony changes, deterioration of ligaments and tendons, and cartilage breakdown. This leads to deformity of the neck joints, swelling, and pain.
Osteoarthritis affects people aged 55 and older. It is also more common in postmenopausal women than in men. Other causes of osteoarthritis include genetics, sex, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity.
Other Health Conditions
Neck pain could indicate several health conditions, including cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and meningitis.
You could experience intense pain even with the slightest movement if your neck muscles spasm. The spasms are always short-lived but can sometimes become a chronic problem. Frequent or chronic muscle spasms could cause pain and headaches, affecting your daily activities. You could still feel pain in the neck because of sore muscles, even if the spasms go away.
Muscle spasms are caused by:
- Sprain or strain.
- Your sleep habits.
- Holding your head in an uncomfortable position.
- Using digital devices can cause tech neck condition.
- Poor posture.
Symptoms Of Neck Pain
Neck pain symptoms can vary in duration and severity. Usually, neck pain can be acute and last for days or weeks. At times, the pain could be chronic. You could experience mild neck pain that does not interfere with your daily activities. The pain could also be severe and affect your daily activities. Usually, the typical symptoms of neck pain include:
Pain When Palpated
If your cervical spine is palpated, you could experience increased neck pain.
You will experience a headache commonly known as a cervicogenic headache if the pain starts in your neck. A headache with neck pain could also be a sign of a migraine headache.
Numbness Or Radiating Pain
Generally, neck pain can radiate to your arms, shoulders, trunk, and head. You could feel numbness, weakness, or tingling in your hands or arms if your neck pain involves the compression of a nerve. You could feel a sharp pain or a burning sensation if a pinched nerve causes your neck pain.
Pain When Moving
Neck pain is often exacerbated by twisting, moving, or extending your cervical spine up and down or side to side.
You could feel stabbing or sharp neck pain localized in one area.
Trouble With Lifting or Gripping Objects
You could experience this problem if weakness or numbness invades your fingers or arms.
You could typically experience this discomfort in the wider area or region of the neck. It is usually described as achy or tender.
This pain could move from the neck through the nerve to the arm and shoulder. The severity could differ, and you could feel this nerve pain like it was searing or burning.
You could experience neurological deficits, like problems with strength, sensation, or reflexes in the arm, because of nerve root compression. Radicular pain could also accompany cervical radiculopathy.
You can suffer depression, emotional distress, anxiety, and irritability because of chronic neck pain.
Crunching Or Grating Sensation
At some point, you could feel a crunching or grating sensation while moving your neck. This problem could result from joint issues or arthritis.
Neck muscles can sometimes become tender to the touch. However, exerting pressure in particular regions can make the pain more severe.
Reduced Range Of Motion
Neck pain could reduce your neck's normal range of motion. It could be hard for you to tilt your neck back or face difficulties moving your head forward or lowering it to the chest. It could also be hard to turn the head to the side to the same degree towards each shoulder. When you have neck pain, you could feel like your neck is stuck or stiff. At times, neck pain can cause a reduced range of motion.
At times, neck pain can cause spasms or involuntary muscle contractions, escalating the discomfort.
Some sitting positions or activities, poor posture, computer work, or sitting down for a long time could worsen your neck pain.
Pain After Taking A Rest
Sometimes, you can experience intense neck pain after waking up or taking a long rest.
Pain Following Injury
You could suffer neck pain from an injury, like a fall, trauma from sports activities, or whiplash from an auto accident.
Ways of Diagnosing Neck Pain
Your doctor can diagnose the cause of neck pain using your medical history and a physical examination. However, the doctor will first deal with severe causes of neck pain, like myelopathy, pressure on your spinal cord, an infection, or cancer. Typically, the doctor will use the following methods to diagnose your neck pain:
Using Your Medical History
Your doctor could inquire about prior neck injuries, which could have caused a herniated disk or whiplash. He/she could also inquire if you had done some work or activities that could strain your neck. The doctor will also ask about where the pain is located. You must also tell your doctor how intense the pain is and how long you have experienced it.
Your doctor will examine your neck and head alignment and range of motion when you move your neck. He/she will also touch your neck and supporting muscles to see if they are tender and check for strain symptoms.
Using Imaging Tests
Imaging tests are not always necessary to determine the cause of neck pain. However, your doctor can still take images of the inside of your neck if you are experiencing severe pain that does not improve or if he/she suspects a serious injury.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
An MRI can reveal soft tissue, bone marrow, nerves, and spinal cord issues. It can also reveal symptoms of infection, if a disk has slipped out of place, and masses that could lead to neck pain, like a tumor or cyst.
Computed Tomography (CT) Scan
If an MRI is not available, a CT scan could be useful. A CT scan can reveal symptoms of bone deterioration and bone spurs.
An X-ray can help your doctor identify issues with your soft tissues or bones that could be causing neck pain. An X-ray can reveal the following:
- Fractures, and
- Cervical alignment problems.
Your doctor could also find the following tests necessary:
Lab tests can assist your doctor in determining the causes of neck pain apart from musculoskeletal injuries, like cancers, rheumatologic conditions, or infections. The tests could include markers of inflammation, urinalysis, and a complete blood count (CBC), among others.
These tests usually check a patient's muscle response and the function of nerves. The tests could include a myelogram and nerve conduction studies if an MRI is contraindicated.
Treatment Or Management Of Neck Pain
The purpose of neck treatment is to alleviate pain and improve neck movement. The treatments that your doctor could prescribe to manage your neck pain include:
Usually, many causes of neck pain do not need surgery. However, your doctor could book you for surgery if one or more of the vertebrae in your spine is exerting pressure on your nerves or has moved out of place.
An injection near your nerve roots can relieve pain and decrease inflammation.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) Unit
A patient could use a TENS unit to apply a low-level electrical current on the skin near the nerves to disrupt the signal of pain that causes discomfort. However, you need to consult your doctor before using a TENS unit.
You could seek the services of a fitness trainer or a physical therapist to learn the movements or exercises that can strengthen the tendons and muscles in your neck and improve flexibility.
Pain medications And Muscle Relaxers
The common first-line neck pain treatments are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These drugs are used to ease inflammation and neck pain. You can also use muscle relaxants to help your neck muscles heal.
Your doctor could advise you to use acupuncture to relieve pain or massage to assist in loosening tightened muscles that are causing discomfort. You can also seek the services of a chiropractor or osteopath to align your spine.
Home Remedies For Neck Pain Relief
Apart from undergoing pain relief treatment, the following are steps you can take to relieve neck pain at home:
Smoking generally slows the healing process, accelerates degenerative disk disease, and damages bone structure.
Practice The Techniques Of Stress Reduction
Employing methods like meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and breathing exercises can assist in reducing tension in your body, which could cause neck pain.
Adhering to your doctor's direction on neck exercises can assist you in improving your range of motion and relieving neck pain. However, you should not exercise if you have a pinched nerve or a serious neck injury.
Use Cold Therapy
Put a bag of frozen vegetables or a cold pack on your painful neck for 15 minutes every few hours. The cold will reduce swelling and inflammation by narrowing your blood vessels. You should use cold rather than heat immediately after an injury.
Use Hot Therapy
Place a heating pad, a hot towel, or a shower on the painful area for 15 minutes every few hours. The heat promotes blood flow by loosening your muscles.
Ways Of Preventing Neck Pain
Some of the steps you could take to prevent neck pain include:
Exercise Your Extensor Muscles and Upper Back
As you advance in age, it is normal to lose strength in your upper back. Your shoulders rock forward as a result, and your head tips forward in a position in front of your spine. This positioning exerts extra strain on your upper back and neck. Some of the exercises that could assist in strengthening your extensor muscles and upper back include:
- Theraband rowing.
- Standing push-ups.
- Scapular squeezes.
Avoid Carrying Heavy Loads On Your Shoulders
Avoid lifting heavy loads like suitcases or bookbags on your shoulders. Consider using luggage or bags with wheels to carry heavy loads.
You can use the exercise used to relieve neck pain to prevent it. Take occasional breaks to move around if your job involves sitting down for a long time. This could help you stretch your neck muscles and your entire body.
Find a Physical Therapist Near Me
It is easy to ignore your neck's important work until you experience pain. A person's head weighs many pounds, and the neck carries this weight. The neck also bears other weights you put on your head. You need to see a physical therapist if you experience neck pain, no matter how mild. We offer practical and personalized remedies for neck pain at Suarez Physical Therapy. Call us at 702-368-6778 to schedule a consultation with one of our Las Vegas physical therapists.