Neck Pain: Your Questions Answered
Got a pain in the neck? You’re not alone. Research suggests that 1 in 5 people suffer from neck pain at any time, and 50% of people will experience neck pain at some point in their lives.
While it usually goes away on its own and is rarely a sign off something more serious, sometimes neck pain is persistent and debilitating.
What is neck pain?
Your neck is made up of vertebrae that extend from the skull to the upper torso. The bones, ligaments and muscles of your neck support your head and allow for movement. Inflammation, injury or abnormalities in the neck can cause pain or stiffness. The pain is felt in the neck but often spreads towards the shoulders or upper back and often causes headaches. Neck pain can also present as tightness, spasms or difficulties in moving your head.
What causes neck pain?
Neck pain or stiffness can happen for a range of reasons. The most typical causes of neck pain, however, are due to:
Neck pain is sometimes caused by sports-related injury gained through a fall or collision. Injuries can also occur through day-to-day life such as car accidents or falls where the muscles of the neck are forced to move unnaturally or outside their normal range of motion. This is often seen with whiplash injuries sustained during car accidents.
Muscle tension and strain
Our necks do an important and almost never-ending job. Pain can occur in the neck because of behaviours and activities such as sitting for too long at a desk, sleeping with your neck in an unnatural position or placing too much pressure on your neck during exercise. Poor posture is another common contributor.
This occurs when herniated disks or bone spurs in the vertebrae of your neck press onto the nerves branching out from the spinal cord, causing pain.
Of course, there is a range of other causes of neck pain too. Some can be signs of more serious conditions such as heart attack, shingles and meningitis. These can include fibromyalgia, spinal stenosis, rheumatoid arthritis or, in more extreme cases, cancer.
What signs and symptoms should I look out for?
Signs and symptoms of neck pain can vary. Some common symptoms are:
- Pain or stiffness – this can range from mild to severe
- Recurring headaches
- A tingling sensation
- Weakness or numbness
- Inability to move your arms, legs, hands or head without severe pain
- An obvious inability to move within your normal range of motion
- Swollen glands
- Dizziness and blackouts
- Pain that extends down your arms or legs.
If symptoms are severe, it’s always best to consult a medical professional.
What are the treatment options?
How neck pain is treated depends on the severity and reason for your pain. Your
GP may perform several tests to figure out what’s causing your pain including:
- Blood tests
- X-rays or MRI scans
In some cases, you may be referred to a physiotherapist for treatment. Modalities here typically include:
Ice and heat therapy
Alternating heat and ice can help provide pain relief and relax tense muscles.
Muscle knots and stiffness can sometimes be relieved through dry needlingdry needling the affected areas.
Massage helps to loosen muscles, increase your range of motion, and may provide some relief from pain.
This may be necessary after an injury such as whiplash to restrict movement while the neck heals.
Specific exercises aimed at relieving muscle tension
Your physiotherapist can provide you with exercises to complete at home. This can be useful if your pain is related to stress, poor posture, or sleeping habits.
Improving your posture can help stop some neck pain from occurring. Your physiotherapist can prescribe exercises, offer advice and suggest aids that can improve posture.
If your pain is severe, there are other treatment options available that can often be used in conjunction with physiotherapy. These can include:
- Chiropractic treatment
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS).
When should I visit my GP?
Neck pain generally goes away after a few days and is not usually something to worry about. However, if your symptoms persist for longer than a week, it’s important to visit your GP.
At any time, if you develop more serious symptoms with your neck pain, seek immediate medical attention. This includes nausea, extreme immobility, and headaches.
How The Brisbane Spine Clinic can help
The Brisbane Spine Clinic can help you manage your neck pain. Our experienced staff will work with you to understand what’s causing your neck pain, and help come up with a plan to provide you with some relief. Call today to book an appointment.