Up to 70 percent of the Australian population is likely to experience neck pain at some point in their life. This condition is common, and it tends to accompany back pain in some cases.
The neck is an integral part of the body as it supports the eyes when you want to look at different angles and directions.
Sadly, it's vulnerable to pain due to poor posture, trauma, and degenerative conditions, such as arthritis.
The pain can be short or long term depending on the cause.
The good thing is that there are varied ways to manage the pain, such as massage, exercises, and physiotherapy.
In this post, we're going to share a complete guide to managing the pain.
Read on to learn more.
What Are the Common Causes?
The best approach to treatment is understanding the possible cause of the discomfort in your neck.
Common reasons, such as sprains and strains, usually clear up within days or weeks.
A strain occurs when a tendon or muscle experiences irritation due to overuse or overextension.
In a sprain, a ligament is usually irritated due to overuse.
Here are some of the things that can lead to neck discomfort and pain:
1. Poor Sleeping Position
Ever woke up in the morning with a stiff neck?
That happens due to a poor sleeping position, and you usually feel pain when you try to turn the neck.
In this case, the neck is usually overextended during the night due to a wrong pillow height.
Experiencing neck pain in the morning also occurs because of using a firm pillow and too many pillows.
This strains ligaments, tendons, and muscles in the neck.
Even though it's usually not a serious problem, it can take up to three days to heal.
2. Sports Injuries
If you participate in intense and contact sports, such as rugby, football, and hockey, you have high chances of sustaining an injury to the neck.
Moving the neck suddenly or unusually could strain the muscle. A collision and a fall will also result in muscle injury or tension.
In sports, there's an injury commonly known as a stinger. This usually happens when nerves in the neck are impacted.
Over time, you'll experience pain, weakness, and numbness in your neck, shoulder, hand, and arm.
3. Poor Sitting Posture
This is a common cause among office workers that tend to use their chairs up to eight hours a day.
When using computers for extended hours, you're likely to tilt your head forward for extended periods.
This forces your ligaments, tendons, and muscles to work harder.
This can affect different muscles in your neck, including scalene, suboccipital, pectoralis, and subscapularis muscles.
An extended forward neck posture has high impact to the lower cervical vertebrae.
People working in jobs that require them to look down for longer periods are susceptible to this neck pain.
Whiplash is simply an injury that occurs when your head and neck move backward and then forward suddenly with force.
This commonly happens in a car accident or crash.
In this case, the cervical spin undergoes extreme stress due to quick motions.
There are other causes of a whiplash, including falls while skiing, bungee jumping, assault, and using a rollercoaster.
The pain can be light, moderate, or severe depending on the magnitude of the impact.
You may also experience other symptoms, such as stiffness and reduced range of motion.
5. Other Possible Causes
Repetitive head motions during activities, such as swimming and dancing, also can cause neck pain.
This simply means you're overusing your muscles and tendons.
Keep in the head in unusual position for extended periods of time will also result in pain.
For example, having a long phone conversation, while holding the phone between the shoulder and head can cause strains and sprains.
6. Chronic Pain Causes
In some cases, your neck pain can be quite severe and chronic.
This might occur when there is a problem in the cervical spine, which is a delicate bone structure that houses the spinal cord.
So, if your pain is persistent and recurring, then you might have a problem in the cervical spine.
Health problems and conditions that can lead to chronic pain in the neck include:
- Cervical osteoarthritis
- Cervical spinal stenosis with myelopathy
- Cervical foraminal stenosis
- Cervical herniated disc
- Cervical degenerative disc disease
Some conditions, such as cervical degenerative disc disease, are natural.
The discs on your spine usually wear and tear over time.
This can lead to pinched nerve and herniated disc, which cause pain in the neck.
Signs and Symptoms
You can experience one or more symptoms when you have a neck pain.
Symptoms usually vary depending on the cause. Some of the common symptoms include:
- Stiff neck
- Radiating pain
- Sharp pain
- Weakness and numbness
When you experience several of these symptoms, consider visiting a doctor as it could indicate a serious underlying condition.
In some cases, your neck pain can be severe that it interrupts with your sleep.
Also, it may make it impossible for you to go about your normal activities.
In accidents, if the impact area was your neck, the pain could start right after the incident.
If not, you can start experiencing the pain a few hours or days after an accident.
Managing Your Pain
Some mild cases of neck pain tend to clear away by themselves after a few days.
If the pain is not serious, you can use pain medications to get relief.
However, you should seek medical help if the pain is severe, recurrent or is accompanied by other symptoms.
1. Non-Prescription Medication
In this case, you can get medication from a drug store to manage the pain.
Creams and gels are some of the common options, and you only need to rub them into the affected area twice or twice a day.
Acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, are also great for the pain.
You can also use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as naproxen and ibuprofen, to relieve the pain.
When using OTC medications, be sure to read the instructions on the label.
If they don't work for you, don't hesitate to seek medical help.
2. Prescription Medication
You can only get these medications from a health professional.
The doctor can give you muscle relaxants, which are usually given to manage severe spasms and pain.
For a short-term pain, you're likely to get narcotic pain relievers.
If you have a persistent and chronic pain, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants.
Tricyclic antidepressants, such as clomipramine amitriptyline, and imipramine, are the most common options for the pain.
Your doctor may also recommend corticosteroid injections for the pain that occurs due to nerve pinch or irritation.
However, injections are rarely used to treat neck pain.
3. Home Remedies
When using pain medications, you can supplement them with different home remedies to reduce inflammation and speed up recovery.
Simple manipulation and stretching can help to ease stiff muscles. Try to do these simple exercises at least 10 minutes every day.
Apply heat or ice to your neck for about 20 minutes at a time. Use ice at least 72 hours within the onset of the pain.
Then you can use heat after that. Heating can be done using warm compresses, heat pads and warm showers. Make sure you wrap the heat or ice in a towel and not to use it directly.
Rest is also another self-care measure that can be effective for strains and sprains. This is a great remedy, especially for a neck pain that you got following hours or days of work.
Avoiding heavy activities and finding time to rest allows muscles and tendons to heal naturally.
4. Take it Easy
If you're suffering from cervical disc disease and you have a hard-pressed life, it' advisable to ease back on your daily activities.
You may want to talk to your boss at work to avoid those tasks that can aggravate the pain or worsen your condition.
When sleeping or resting, try to keep you need in a neutral position by placing a pillow under your neck. Avoid staying immobile and inactive for fear of worsening your pain.
Instead, try to maintain an activity level that your current state can actually allow. Increase your activity level as the pain improves.
Massage therapy helps to soothe and relax muscles and tendons to alleviate the pain.
When you have a neck pain, the masseuse or masseur will focus on massaging your upper back and shoulders. Extending the massage to the back, legs, chest, and arms might also be beneficial.
Massage can also be used as a preventive measure.
For example, if you have a job that involves sitting for extended hours, occasional massage can be effective in preventing back pain and neck pain. It helps to improve your flexibility and posture.
You can also benefit from increased range of motion, reduced blood pressure, and better blood circulation.
Also, you don't need to visit a massage professional for every case. A simple massage chair can be effective and cost-effective for regular massage.
The good thing is that there are no recurring or regular costs for using the chair. It also helps you to avoid the usual difficulty of scheduling a massage appointment.
5. Physical Therapy
If your neck pain occurred as a result of an accident, collision or a fall, it's important to seek professional help from a physiotherapist.
Using physical therapy can help you to avoid the use of opioids, which usually have side effects, such as depression, addiction, and overdose.
A good physical therapist will design a treatment plan that best suits your situation.
You can make the most of your stay in a therapy rehab by engaging in all the recommended exercises and attending all sessions as scheduled.
Therapy can also eliminate the need for surgery for some patients.
Therapy can involve several stages of treatment. Be sure to complete all the phases to optimal healing.
6. Stretching Exercises
If you're feeling well enough, and your doctor gives permission, you can start engaging in stretching exercises.
This will help to both improve flexibility and relieve pain.
Make sure you warm up before the exercises and take a warm shower after that.
You can do these exercises by turning your head left. Using your hand, push the chin so that the head can turn slightly more.
Do the same on the right side while maintaining the position for about a minute.
Another way is to stretch your arms on the side and tilt your head to the left. While doing this, try to touch your left year to the shoulder and hold it there for a minute.
Repeat this on the right side, too.
If the exercises cause aggravated neck pain, it's advisable to stop them immediately.
7. Advanced Pain Management
For certain chronic cases, doctors can employ advanced pain management technique to reduce the pain. One option is neurostimulation therapy, which is also known as spinal cord stimulation.
In this case, the doctor attaches a stimulator under the skin, and the device causes a tingling sensation that eases the pain.
If your pain is due to a nerve root, the doctor may recommend a selective nerve root back (SNRB).
This is simply an injection of an anti-inflammatory steroid, such as cortisone, to the nerve root are. The steroid numbs the area, helping with pain relief.
Another procedure for the pain is known as radiofrequency ablation (RFA).
During this procedure, the doctor uses a radio wave to produce an electrical current.
The current heats up the area of the nerve that's causing pain.
This action decreases pain signals from that particular nerve, thus reducing pain.
Neck Pain - The Takeaway
As a patient, the best approach to managing your pain is understanding the cause and seeking medical help if possible.
For normal pain that occurs due to work or poor posture, self-care measures and using a massage chair can be quite effective in easing your neck pain.
You can also use a massage chair to supplement other forms of therapy and treatment to ensure a quick recovery.
Just make sure to adhere to all the necessary instructions to avoid aggravating your pain.
Do you have any question on pain management? Feel free to contact us, and we'll be glad to help.