Neck pain is the pain that you experience in or around your cervical spine. This pain is typically a symptom of several medical conditions or injuries.
The neck is the area that comprises the beginning of the spinal cord. It has seven vertebrae that are known as the “cervical vertebrae.” Of all the vertebrae in the spinal column, the ones in the cervical spine are the smallest. The neck contains the laryngeal prominence or what is better known as the “Adam’s apple,” but the neck also houses very important features that are needed for speech. The neck also contains carotid arteries and jugular veins, a portion of the esophagus, the vocal cords, the larynx and the hyoid, and the sternocleidomastoid muscles.
What Does Neck Pain Feel Like?
Many people describe pain in the neck as:
- An ache that is persistent
- An increase in sensitivity when pressure is applied to the neck
- An increase in the tension or the tightening of the muscles in the neck
- Pain in the neck that accompanies a headache. There may also be tingling or numbness in one arm or both
- Burning or stabbing pain
So many people experience neck pain during their lives that you could practically say that everyone has it. For example, 80% of the population experience neck pain in their lifetimes, but 20% to 50% of this population experience it every year. More women complain of pain in the neck than men do, but as you grow older, your chance of experiencing this pain increases.
What Are the Common Neck Pain Causes?
As time goes by, the cartilage wears down in a condition called “osteoarthritis.” Aging also causes spinal stenosis when the spaces in the spine begin to narrow. Years of stress and motion cause the spinal discs to become degenerated, and this causes pinched nerves or a herniated disc in the neck.
It’s easy to injure the neck, and sports activities, car accidents, and falls are the most common ways to do this. These mishaps make the neck’s ligaments and muscles outside of their normal range. The cervical vertebrae can also fracture and injure the spinal cord, and the neck is also vulnerable to whiplash incidents.
During particularly stressful times, people may allow their neck muscles to tense up, and this causes pain.
Pain in the neck is a symptom that some people have before a heart attack. It occurs alongside other heart attack symptoms, including arm or jaw pain, vomiting, nausea, sweating, and shortness of breath.
When people use their necks during repetitive actions or activities that are particularly strenuous, this overuse can lead to pain and stiffness.
A thin tissue surrounds the brain and the spinal cord, and when this tissue becomes inflamed, it is known as “meningitis.” A symptom of meningitis is a stiff neck, but it also causes fever, sensitivity to light, vomiting, nausea, and headache.
One common cause of pain in the neck is bad posture. While sitting, this is when you are hunched over your desk. It also occurs when people are texting and is known to cause “text neck.”
How Is Neck Pain Treated?
You can easily relieve neck pain at home with the following:
Cold and Heat Therapy
Applying an ice pack to the neck reduces inflammation. The optimal time to do this is 24 to 48 hours after the pain begins. By switching to heat, you will increase the blood flow in your neck, and this will prepare your neck to heal.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are better known as “NSAIDs,” and they relieve both the pain and the inflammation. They include Tylenol, Aleve, Motrin IB, and Advil.
Practice Good Posture
Practicing good posture on a regular basis is instrumental in preventing pain. One thing to do is create an ergonomic workplace. Also, make sure to lift heavy objects with your legs rather than your back. Changing your sleep posture so that you are sleeping on your back will also help. You can purchase an ergonomic pillow for sleeping on your side. Just make sure that you are aware of your posture at all times throughout the day. This will ensure that your spine remains straight and reduces the strain on your neck.
Change Your Position Often
Be cognizant that you are not remaining in the same position for several hours. For example, make a point of standing up after 30 minutes or so after you have been sitting for a while. If you are standing in one position for long periods of time, make sure that you switch positions on a regular basis.
What If These Remedies Do Not Work for You?
In the event that the above remedies do not work for you, you may be a candidate for surgery or steroid injections. When you see a doctor for this possibility, he will review your medical history and run tests. Your physician will ask you to describe your symptoms. Your doctor will ask you several follow-up questions such as if you have been injured or had an accident before as well as are taking any medications or supplements.
Each person has a different underlying condition and different symptoms, so your physician will use the information collected to determine the best course of treatment for you. The plan will be specific to the pain that you are experiencing and the condition that your doctor diagnoses.
When Should I See a Doctor?
The first thing that you must do is make a log of the symptoms you have throughout the day. If your pain persists longer than a week, it is time to seek medical attention. The symptoms that you need to be aware of include the following:
- Swollen glands
- Difficulties swallowing or breathing
- Pain that radiates down your arm or leg
- Inability to move your arms or hands
Take the First Step to Relief
The neck is an important part of the body, and there are several reasons that you could be experiencing pain in the neck. If you’re ready to alleviate neck pain, you have several treatment options available to you. Dr. Alexander understands, and he can provide treatment specific to your needs.
If you have been wondering how to get rid of neck pain and you just can’t find the right answer, contact Dr. Alexander today to set up an appointment.