Neck pain can range from mild discomfort to disabling, chronic pain. Many different things can cause neck pain including injury, age-related disorders, and inflammatory disease. But the good news is, easing your own discomfort is a task literally in your own hands.
There are times when you just have to be tied down to your desk for hours on end…or you have to stay put by the kitchen platform until all tasks are complete. And you think, the world will come to an end if you don’t do so. The result: your ‘world of comfort’ does come to an end, and you invite excruciating pain in your neck that simply won’t go away, even if you marinate it with balm for days.
Neck pain is a common complaint among people of all ages. The neck muscles get strained from poor posture – whether it’s due to leaning over your computer or hunching over your workbench or performing routine chores at home from cleaning to cooking which needs you to hold your head in awkward positions for a long time. Neck pain is rarely a symptom of a really serious problem, but if it is accompanied by numbness or loss of strength in your arms, then it could be a pointer to long-standing neglect of conditions that call for corrective action.
The cervical spine begins at the base of the skull and consists of a series of seven vertebral segments (named C1 though C7) which connect to the thoracic (chest) region of the spine (C7 to T1). Ligaments, muscles, and tendons help stabilise and move the cervical spine.
The most common cause of neck pain occurs when one of these soft tissues becomes strained or sprained from overuse or overextension. This type of injury typically heals within a week or two. However, various problems in the cervical spine can irritate a nerve root or the spinal cord, causing longer-lasting neck pain and/or neurological deficits.
Some signs and symptoms associated with neck pain could indicate the health of a nerve root or that the spinal cord is at risk, or perhaps, there is an underlying disease or infection. These ‘red flag’ signs and symptoms may include fever or chills, pain or tingling that radiates into the arms or legs, problems with balance or coordination, or other troublesome signs. Hence, immediate medical attention is needed if your neck pain gets serious.
Causes of neck pain
Your neck is flexible and supports the weight of your head, so it can be vulnerable to injuries and conditions that cause pain and restrict motion. Neck pain causes include:
Overuse, such as too many hours hunched over your computer or smartphone, often triggers muscle strains. Even minor things, such as reading in bed or gritting your teeth, can strain neck muscles.
Just like the other joints in your body, your neck joints tend to wear down with age. Osteoarthritis causes the cushions (cartilage) between your bones (vertebrae) to deteriorate. Your body then forms bone spurs that affect joint motion and cause pain.
Herniated disks or bone spurs in the vertebrae of your neck can press on the nerves branching out from the spinal cord.
Rear-end auto collisions often result in whiplash injury, which occurs when the head is jerked backward and then forward, straining the soft tissues of the neck.
Certain diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis or cancer, can cause neck pain.
Signs and symptoms
Pain that often get worse by holding your head in one place for long periods, such as when driving or working at a computer is one of the most common symptom. Other symptoms include muscle tightness and spasms, decreased ability to move your head, headaches, etc.,
Along with a complete medical history and physical exam, diagnostic procedures for neck pain may include:
These tests can help diagnose underlying inflammatory disease.
Electromyogram (EMG). A test to evaluate nerve function.
A test that uses electromagnetic energy beams to make images of bones onto film.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
A procedure that uses large magnets and a computer to make detailed images of organs and structures within the body. MRI can often identify damage or disease of internal structures within our joints, or in a surrounding ligament or muscle.
Computed tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan)
An imaging procedure that uses X-rays and computer technology to make images of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs.
Most neck pain is associated with poor posture combined with age-related wear and tear. To help prevent neck pain, keep your head centered over your spine. Some simple changes in your daily routine may help in getting rid of neck pain in the early stages. Consider trying to:
Use good posture
When standing and sitting, be sure your shoulders are in a straight line over your hips and your ears are directly over your shoulders.
Take frequent breaks
If you travel long distances or work long hours at your computer, get up, move around and stretch your neck and shoulders. Adjust your desk, chair and computer so that the monitor is at eye level. Knees should be slightly lower than hips. Use your chair’s armrests.
Avoid inappropriate actions
Avoid tucking the phone between your ear and shoulder when you talk. Use a headset or speakerphone instead.
If you smoke, quit – smoking can put you at higher risk of developing neck pain.
Avoid carrying heavy bags with straps over your shoulder – the weight can strain your neck.
Sleep in a good position – your head and neck should be aligned with your body. Use a small pillow under your neck.
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