Why does neck pain happen?
Neck pain is a common problem that affects about 10 percent of adults. It’s caused by an irritation to discs, tendons, muscles and ligaments in the upper back and neck area. Some of the causes of neck pain include:
- Abrupt movements of the neck, such as whiplash
- Abnormalities in the bone or joints
- Trauma from accidents or falls
- Poor posture
- Diseases that cause deterioration over time
- Muscle strain, such as carrying a heavy backpack
- Worry and stress
What are the common symptoms?
The symptoms of neck pain can range from mild discomfort to severe pain that may spread to your upper back, shoulders and arms. Neck pain may be noticeable immediately after an injury or it may be delayed. Some of the physical symptoms include:
- Neck stiffness
- Burning or stinging pain
In addition, some people experience psychological and cognitive symptoms, including memory loss, difficulty concentrating, nervousness, irritability, sleep disturbances, fatigue or depression.
How do you diagnose neck pain?
There are a variety of ways to diagnose neck pain. Here are some of the most common:
- Medical History. By asking questions about your medical history, a physician can identify possible causes of your neck pain and suggest an appropriate treatment. This is often the most valuable.
- Physical Exam. Tests performed by our providers during a physical exam can help pinpoint the source of pain.
- X-rays. X-rays can help determine whether there is a fracture or other problem with the bones in your neck.
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses a magnetic field and radio waves to look at soft tissues in the spine (such as discs).
- CT scan/myelogram. A CT scan is similar to an MRI. A myelogram is a procedure that combines the use of dye with x-rays or CT scans to take pictures of the bones and fluid-filled space between the bones in your spine.
- Injections: Injections can relieve neck pain and give the physician important information about the cause of your problem.
How is neck pain treated?
Treatment for those with neck strain may include pain medications, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen), antidepressants, muscle relaxants, and rarely a cervical collar (a device used to support the neck and head that’s typically worn for a short time). Range of motion exercises, physical therapy, and cervical traction (a light stretching of the back) are often the most effective. Supplemental heat application may also relieve muscle tension.
Pain from neck strain typically improves within a few days or weeks. 95% of patients recover within three months after a neck injury although some may continue to have residual neck pain and headaches.
A trigger point is a tight knot in muscle tissue that can cause pain. We explain how these knots develop in your neck, review options you can try at home to relieve soreness, and tell you when neck pain should trigger a call to your doctor.
Worried about neck pain? We’ve got tips to minimize or avoid neck soreness.