What Is Neck Pain ?
Neck pain is common. Poor posture whether from leaning over a computer or hunching over a workbench strains neck muscle. Osteoarthritis also is a common cause of neck pain.
Rarely, neck pain can be a symptom of a more serious problem. Seek medical care for neck pain with numbness or loss of strength in the arms or hands or for pain that shoots into a shoulder or down an arm.
Neck pain is pain that starts in the neck and can be associated with radiating pain down one or both of the arms.
Neck pain, or cervicalgia, can last from days to years, depending on the cause. Common causes include physical strain, poor posture, mental stress, osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, herniated disk, pinched nerve, tumors and other health conditions.
- Pain that lasts less than 4 weeks.
- Pain that lasts 4 to 12 weeks.
- Pain that lasts 3 or more months.
- Stiff neck.
- Axial pain
- Pain that’s often worsened by holding the head in one place for long periods, such as when driving or working at a computer
- Muscle tightness and spasms
- Decreased ability to move the head
Because the neck supports the weight of the head, it can be at risk of injuries and conditions that cause pain and restrict motion. Neck pain causes include:
- Muscle strains.Overuse, such as too many hours hunched over a computer or a smartphone, often triggers muscle strains. Even minor things, such as reading in bed, can strain neck muscles.
- Worn joints.As with other joints in the body, neck joints tend to wear with age. In response to this wear and tear, the body often forms bone spurs that can affect joint motion and cause pain.
- Nerve compression.Herniated disks or bone spurs in the vertebrae of the neck can press on the nerves branching out from the spinal cord.
- Rear-end auto collisions often result in whiplash injury. This occurs when the head jerks backward and then forward, straining the soft tissues of the neck.
- Certain diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis or cancer, can cause neck pain.
Imaging tests might help find the cause of the neck pain.
- X-rays.X-rays can reveal areas in the neck where the nerves or spinal cord might be pinched by bone spurs or other changes.
- CT scan.CT scans combine X-ray images taken from many different directions to produce detailed cross-sectional views of structures inside the neck.
- MRI uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to create detailed images of bones and soft tissues. The soft tissues include the disks, the spinal cord and the nerves coming from the spinal cord.
- Electromyography (EMG).An EMG can determine whether neck pain might be related to a pinched nerve. It involves inserting fine needles through the skin into a muscle. The test measures the speed of nerve conduction to determine whether nerves are working properly.
- Blood tests.Blood tests can sometimes provide evidence of inflammation or infections that might be causing or contributing to neck pain.
- Medications Treatment
Pain relievers might include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as naproxen sodium (Aleve) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others). Take these medications only as directed. Overuse can cause serious side effects.
- Physical therapy TreatmentA physical therapist can teach correct position for standing sitting, alignment, and neck-strengthening exercises. Physical therapy might also involve the use of heat, ice, rest and other measures to help ease the pain. However, there’s little evidence that TENS works for neck pain.
- Surgical and other procedures Treatment
Steroid injections. A healthcare provider might inject your body steroid medications near the nerve roots, or into the muscles into the spinal joints, in the neck.
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. 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. When using cell phones, tablets and other small screens, keep your head up and hold the device straight out rather than bending your neck to look down at the device.
- 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 computerso that the monitor is at eye level. Knees should be slightly lower than hips. Use your chair’s armrests.
- If you smoke, quit.Smoking can increase the risk of developing neck pain.
- Avoid carrying heavy bags with straps over your shoulder.The weight can strain your neck.
- Sleep in a healthy position.Your head and neck should be aligned with your body. Use a small pillow under your neck. Try sleeping on your back with your thighs elevated on pillows, which will flatten your spinal muscles.
- Stay active.If you don’t move much, increase your activity level.