What’s neck pain?

Your neck is made up of vertebrae that run from the base of your skull to the top of your torso. Cervical discs are shock absorbers located between the bones in the neck.

Your neck’s bones, ligaments, and muscles support and move your head. Neck stiffness or soreness can be caused by an abnormality, inflammation, or injury.

Many people suffer from occasional neck pain or stiffness. It is frequently caused by bad posture or overuse. Neck pain can sometimes be caused by a fall, contact sports, or whiplash.

Neck discomfort is usually not a serious condition and can be resolved within a few days.

However, in rare circumstances, neck pain can signify a serious injury or sickness that necessitates medical attention.

Seek medical assistance right away if you experience neck pain that lasts more than a week, is severe, or is accompanied by other symptoms.

Causes of neck pain

Neck pain or stiffness can occur for a number of causes.

Muscle tension and strain

This is typically the result of actions and behaviors such as:

  • Poor posture
  • Working at a desk for an extended period of time without shifting positions
  • Sleeping with your neck in an incorrect position
  • jarring your neck while exercising

Injury

The neck is especially vulnerable to injury in falls, vehicle accidents, and sports, as the muscles and ligaments of the neck are forced to move outside of their typical range.

The spinal cord may be injured if the neck bones (cervical vertebrae) are shattered. Whiplash is a term used to describe neck damage caused by an abrupt jerking of the head.

Heart attack

Neck discomfort can also be a symptom of a heart attack, but it frequently occurs in conjunction with other heart attack symptoms, such as:

  • shortness of breath
  • sweating
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • arm or jaw pain

If your neck hurts and you have other heart attack symptoms, contact an ambulance or go to the emergency hospital right away.

Meningitis

The inflammation of the thin tissue that surrounds the brain and spinal cord is known as meningitis. A fever and a headache are common symptoms of meningitis, as is a stiff neck. Meningitis is a medical issue that can be lethal.

If you have meningitis symptoms, seek medical attention right once.

Other causes

Other causes include the following:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis produces joint discomfort, edema, and bone spurs. Neck discomfort can develop when they occur in the neck area.
  • Osteoporosis weakens the bones and might result in minor fractures. This ailment is most commonly found in the hands or knees, but it can also occur in the neck.
  • Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes widespread muscle pain, particularly in the neck and shoulders.
  • The cervical discs might deteriorate as you age. This is known as spondylosis or neck osteoarthritis. This can cause the space between the vertebrae to narrow. It also puts strain on your joints.
  • When a disk protrudes as a result of trauma or injury, it can put additional strain on the spinal cord or nerve roots. This is referred to as a herniated cervical disk, which is also known as a burst or slipped disk.
  • Spinal stenosis happens when the spinal column narrows, putting pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots as they exit the vertebrae. This could be a result of long-term inflammation caused by arthritis or other disorders.

Neck stiffness or pain can arise in rare cases as a result of:

  • congenital abnormalities
  • infections
  • abscesses
  • tumors
  • cancer of the spine

When to see your doctor

Consult your doctor if your symptoms last more than a week. You should also visit a doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • severe neck pain without apparent cause
  • lump in your neck
  • fever
  • headache
  • swollen glands
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • trouble swallowing or breathing
  • weakness
  • numbness
  • tingling
  • pain that radiates down your arms or legs
  • inability to move your arms or hands
  • inability to touch your chin to your chest
  • bladder or bowel dysfunction

If you’ve been in an accident or fallen and your neck is hurting, seek medical help immediately.

How neck pain is treated

Your doctor will examine you and gather a comprehensive medical history. Prepare to tell your doctor about your symptoms in detail. You should also inform them of any prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications or supplements you’ve been using.

Even if it does not appear to be linked, you should notify your doctor of any recent injuries or incidents.

The treatment for neck discomfort is determined by the diagnosis. In addition to a complete history and physical exam by your doctor, you may require one or more of the imaging studies and tests listed below to assist your doctor in determining the reason for your neck pain:

  • blood tests
  • X-rays
  • CT scans
  • MRI scans
  • electromyography, which allows your doctor to examine the condition of your muscles and the nerves that govern them.
  • lumbar puncture (spinal tap)

Your doctor may recommend you to a specialist based on the results. Neck pain treatment options include:

  • ice and heat therapy
  • exercise, stretching, and physical therapy
  • pain medication
  • corticosteroid injections
  • muscle relaxants
  • neck collar
  • traction
  • antibiotics if you have an infection
  • If an illness such as meningitis or a heart attack is the cause, hospitalization is required
  • surgery, which is rarely necessary

Alternative therapies include:

  • acupuncture
  • chiropractic treatment
  • massage
  • transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)

When using these procedures, make sure you’re seeing a licensed specialist.

How to ease neck pain at home

Take the following basic steps to treat minor neck discomfort or stiffness:

  • For the first few days, apply ice. Then, use a heating pad, a hot compress, or a hot shower to relieve the pain.
  • Take over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
  • Rest from sports, activities that worsen your symptoms, and hard lifting for a few days. Slowly resume normal activity as your symptoms subside.
  • Every day, stretch your neck. Stretch your head slowly in side-to-side and up-and-down motions.
  • Use good posture.
  • Keep the phone from being cradled between your neck and shoulder.
  • Alter your stance frequently. Don’t stay in one posture for too long.
  • Get a relaxing neck massage.
  • When sleeping, use a specific neck pillow.
  • Use a neck brace or collar only with your doctor’s permission. If you don’t use them correctly, they can aggravate your symptoms.

What is the prognosis for those suffering from neck pain?

Many people experience neck pain as a result of poor posture and muscle strain. In these cases, if you practice good posture and rest your neck muscles when they are sore, your neck pain should subside.

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