Neck Pain (Cervical). What is neck pain?
This type of pain is usually caused by a strain in the neck muscles and often linked to one's poor posture while doing an activity like hunching over as you work in front of the computer. There are cases wherein neck pain is due to arthritis. If someone experiences severe neck pain, this could be a warning sign of a more serious health problem. Doctors generally advise their patients if the neck pain is resulting in a numbing effect, weak arms and hands or an intense shooting pain from the shoulder down to your arm, seek immediate medical care to avoid complications.
Common Conditions of Cervical (Neck) Pain
- Bulging Disc
- Cervical Compression
- Cervical Trauma
- Cervical Kyphosis
- Cervical Compression Fractures
- Cervical Spondylosis
- Degenerative Disc Disease
- Facet Joint Syndrome
- Failed Neck Syndrome
- Herniated Disc
- Nerve Impingement
- Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Cervical Spine
Symptoms of neck pain
Neck pain may vary from one person to another, depending upon where the pain is located and the extent of its occurrence. Among the symptoms that one must be completely aware of are:
- Increasing pain around the neck area and becomes worse despite the application of some home care remedies like hot and cold compress, stretching or massage.
- Neck pain affecting the arms and legs.
- Worst case scenario is loss of control of bowel or bladder due to the severity of pain felt around the neck.
Causes of neck pain
Muscle strain around the neck area, often due to some activities that may trigger the strain like long hours of driving in a hunch position, reading while in a lying position or gritting one's teeth.
Weakening of the neck joints due to old age which may lead to osteoarthritis affecting the neck area.
Traumatic injuries due to car collisions at the rear end, accidental falls or sports like diving.
Certain ailments or diseases resulting to neck pain such as rheumatoid arthritis, cancer or meningitis.
Nerve compression, either a result of herniated disk or bone spurs.
Suggested basic home care remedies
Neck pain may come and go on its own after a few days and won’t always require medical treatment. If a person is experiencing minimal levels of pain or discomfort, below are some home care tips to follow:
Applying cold and warm compresses to the neck area that last up to 15 minutes can ease the strain. This procedure is done three or more times in a day until neck pain is gone. Others find relief after taking a hot shower or warm bath.
Stretching exercises that are focused on the neck area are also proven to relieve the strain. Simple neck stretching can be performed like moving the neck slowly from side to side or up and down motion.
Observing proper posture is also another way to lessen the occurrence of neck pain. Make it a habit to sit properly even when working long hours in front of the computer. Support your back and make sure your monitor is at eye level.
Tests and diagnosis needed
As a basic requirement during a medical assessment, your doctor will inquire about the level of pain or discomfort as well as other symptoms bothering you. He or she will also conduct physical examination to verify the existence of tenderness, numbness and muscle weakness. Patient is also requested to do some routine movement of the head like forward, backward and side to side. Series of tests are also done to the patient such as:
- X-rays are done to determine whether there are some nerves affected or there is an underlying problem around the spinal cord like herniated disk or bone spurs.
- Computerized tomography (CT scan) is also performed wherein series of x-ray images are taken from different angles, so that a more detailed cross-sectional view of the inner portion of the neck is derived.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be required to get a clearer view of the bones and soft tissues as well as the spinal cord and nerves.
- Lab tests are also done and may include:
- Blood tests to verify if there are some infections or inflammations.
- Spinal tap (lumbar puncture), sample fluids are taken from the patient with the use of a needle inserted in the spine. This is used to check whether the patient has meningitis or not.
Treatments and drugs
If your neck pain becomes worse, the following treatments and drugs could be recommended by the attending medical practitioner:
Prescription of stronger pain relievers, muscle relaxant drugs or tricyclic antidepressant medicines.
Various therapy treatments can be prescribed such as:
- Neck stretching and other forms of neck exercises are done under the supervision of a certified physical therapist.
- Traction is another therapy where the use of weights and pulleys are facilitated to stretch the neck of the patient and keep it still. This procedure is only performed under the strict supervision of a medical professional and licensed physical therapist.
- Use of soft collar as a short-term immobilization therapy. This neck support is worn for a limited period of time, not more than two weeks to avoid further harm done to the patient's neck.
- Injection of steroids like corticosteroid is injected to the patient to lessen the neck pain. Others are given numbing medications (lidocaine) to minimize pain or discomfort.
- Surgical procedure is done only on rare cases to provide relieve to the nerve root or spinal cord.
Some other alternative treatments that can be prescribed for some patients may include:
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulations (TENS)
Tips to prevent neck pain
Neck pain can be the result of poor posture, accidents, injury or can be age age-related. To prevent the occurrence of neck, here are a few changes you could observe:
Take interval breaks when you feel a strain around your neck, especially if you have spent long hours in front of the computer or drove miles. Avoid gritting your teeth or hunching when doing close work activity.
Do frequent stretching such as pulling your shoulder blades together and then relax. Another exercise that could help reduce neck pain is shrugging your shoulders, using upward and downward motion.
Don't tuck the phone between your ear and shoulder. Use your headset.
Observe proper sleeping position to avoid stressing the neck area. Buy a pillow that is designed to follow the natural curve of the neck and never sleep on your stomach.