Learn More About Neck Pain
Many people experience pain or stiffness in their necks periodically. They may have poor posture, which can put excess pressure on discs, vertebrae, and ligaments. Or, they may have an injury from overuse or an injury.
In most cases, neck pain is not severe and goes away on its own within a few days. However, sometimes, pain in your neck can be an indication of a serious injury or illness that will require attention from a healthcare provider to get well.
Injuries from contact sports, whiplash from car accidents and repetitive stress from work or hobbies can all take a toll. Without treatment, in some cases, injuries can lead to permanent damage. If you have pain that is severe, that lasts longer than a week or that comes with other concerning symptoms; you need to seek medical attention right away.
Who Is at Risk?
Neck pain is a very widespread condition in adults; around 15 to 25% of adults between the ages of 21 and 55 reported experiencing neck pain at some point in their lifetimes. It is especially common in women and is often accompanied by shoulder pain.
Common Causes of Neck Pain
Most of the common causes of neck pain are associated with strains or sprains that will heal in a few days. A sprain occurs when a ligament is irritated from overextension or overuse. A strain, by contrast, occurs in a tendon or muscle.
Some of the common causes of neck sprain or strain include:
- Whiplash. This is one of the most common car accident injuries. During whiplash, the head and neck are whipped forward and back at high speed and high force. This can cause the soft tissue of the neck and around the cervical spine to be ruptured or damaged.
- Holding the head at an unnatural angle. Whether it’s spending an evening staring up at fireworks or walking around the kitchen with your phone pinched between your head and shoulder, holding your neck and head in an unusual position can put painful pressure on your neck.
- Repetitive stress injuries. When you move your head in the same way over and over, a repetitive motion injury can occur due to overuse. Examples include turning your head back and forth during swimming or tennis.
- Bad posture. Slouching or curving over can lead to problems with your neck. Many people spend hours with their heads bent down while they are texting, reading, working outdoors or watching TV. Doctors, for instance, are seeing increasing cases of “text neck,” which can occur when you spend too much time bending over your mobile phone.
- Bad sleeping positions. Wake up with a crick in your neck? This can be the result of sleeping in an awkward or unusual position that causes you to overextend your neck.
- Sports injuries. Both repetitive and acute injuries can occur during sports. Some are caused by falls or collisions; others may be the result of moving your neck in a new or unusual way. The “stinger” is a common injury; this occurs when an impact or collision compresses a nerve, causing pain and numbness that radiates from the neck into the shoulder and arm.
Pain in your neck can usually be traced to soft tissues in and around the cervical spine that include muscles, ligaments, and tendons. In some cases, muscle spasms and muscle strain can be traced to an underlying condition such as arthritis, spinal stenosis or disc degeneration. They can be caused by acute trauma, but are more likely to come on slowly over time, without an obvious trigger or cause.
Whether you’ve just woken up with a stiff and sore neck or whether your pain can be traced to a chronic condition, these tips can help prevent neck pain:
Keep your computer monitor at eye level.
Sit down at your computer in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Does your gaze fall directly in the middle of the screen when you open them? If not, you should adjust the screen, so they do. Many people, especially those working on laptops, have to angle their heads down to look at the screen. On laptops, you may need to invest in a separate monitor.
Sleep right for neck comfort.
Most people find that sleeping on their backs is the best position for keeping the spine aligned during sleep. If you are a side-sleeper, there are special pillows that can help keep you from straining your neck in your sleep. Make sure that your pillow is not too thick, as this can cause you to turn your neck at an unnatural angle.
People who have issues like spinal stenosis of spinal arthritis are more comfortable sleeping at a slight incline. A wedge-shaped foam pillow or an adjustable bed may give relief.
Stretch your neck.
Talk to your doctor about stretching and strengthening exercises that can help with neck tension and make it less vulnerable to injury.
Talking on the phone a lot can lead to neck strain. If you spend a lot of time using your phone, a headset or other hands-free device can help relieve neck tension.
Practice good texting posture.
Bending your head to look at your phone can put excessive levels of strain on your neck. Over time, this can even lead to degenerative disc disease and other conditions. Avoid looking down at your phone and hold it out in front of you instead.
The discs between your vertebrae are mostly water. These discs cushion your spine and keep it healthy. Drinking plenty of water can keep them strong and pliable, so they are less vulnerable to injury.
Maintain good posture.
If you have bad posture, it can strain the muscles and ligaments that support your neck. This can cause injuries to the area over time. For every inch your head shifts forward while slouching, an extra ten pounds of pressure is placed on the muscles in your neck and upper back. When you catch yourself falling into a slumped posture, you can sit or stand up straight to relieve pressure.
Distribute weight evenly.
If you carry a heavy purse or bag over one shoulder, it can put a strain on your neck day after day. The uneven load pushes your shoulders into an uneven posture.
Go through your bags to remove nonessentials and reduce the weight. If you have many items that must be carried daily, consider a well-fitted backpack to distribute the weight more evenly and reduce strain.
Ways to Relieve Neck Pain
Sometimes, you can relieve neck pain at home without the need for medical intervention. Other times, it takes a doctor’s care. Even if you are undergoing treatment, these self-help methods can soothe your neck and give you relief.
Massage away trigger point pain.
When there is irritation around the facet joints in the vertebrae of your lower neck, muscle trigger point pain can be a result. You’ll often feel it as minute knots in the fascia or muscle in your neck and shoulders. Self-massage can reduce pain. It can also increase blood flow to the area to aid in healing. Look into getting regular massages to keep the muscles in that area loose and limber.
Ice and heat therapy.
Immediately and for the first two to three days after an injury, apply ice a few times a day to numb the area and reduce swelling. After that, heat can help relax muscles and soothe the pain from muscle sprains and spasms. If you are suffering from whiplash, icing the area as soon as possible can reduce the time you are in pain.
Soak in Epsom salt.
Magnesium sulfate, sold as Epsom salt, can decrease inflammation and sooth muscle pain. Add two cups of Epsom salt to a warm bath, then soak in the tub to relax muscles and relieve pain.
Try aquatic exercise.
Exercising in water can reduce impact and pain. This is especially helpful if you have osteoarthritis. Look into local water aerobic classes as a gentler option for building strength and flexibility and increasing your range of motion.
Switch to the proper pillow.
If you are experiencing neck pain, switching to memory foam or feather pillow can help. These conform to your head and help you avoid inadvertently overextending your neck while you sleep.
Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about stretching exercises you can do when your neck is hurt. Many will recommend at least a small level of regular physical activity during healing to keep you from getting stiff. Many yoga poses that can efficiently stretch the area to relieve pain. Inversions like downward dog use gravity to help you gently stretch and get the oxygen flowing.
Treatments for Neck Pain
We offer holistic care that pulls from a number of disciplines to provide relief. Each patient’s care is customized to fit their level of health and their specific needs. Treatments that can help with neck pain include:
Exercise and Physical Therapy
Research has shown physical therapy and targeted exercise to alleviate neck pain symptoms in a wide range of patients. In physical therapy, you’ll be taught exercises that can strengthen the muscles that support your neck and help you increase your range of mobility. You’ll also be shown proper body mechanics to reduce your chances of neck strain or re-injury.
The goals of physical therapy will depend on your degree of injury and your general level of health. For instance, if your injuries have led to a level of physical impairment that keeps you from working or enjoying your everyday activities, treatment will focus on helping you get back to your former level of health.
In some cases, the focus will be on preventing permanent disability after the injury. Regular exercise can increase the chances of full recovery and healing. While rest is often recommended, too little mobility can have lasting negative effects. This is why it is recommended that you stay as close to your normal activities after many injuries.
Exercise and physical therapy also have emotional health benefits. If you lose mobility after an injury, your quality of life can decline. People can become depressed because of chronic pain. The inability to get out and about can also cause stress. Regaining your strength and your mobility can provide a lasting benefit to your mental and emotional health.
Most people know Botox as a cosmetic treatment to reduce the appearance of wrinkles. However, it was initially designed to treat painful eye muscle spasms.
Researchers have found that it is effective against other chronic pain caused by muscle spasms. Injections of Botox can effectively treat painful muscle spasms in the neck and shoulders. In one study, patients experienced a 40% reduction in pain after treatment. Half of all participants said that they would undergo further Botox injections for the same condition again.
Injections typically provide relief for around three to six months. They are usually used in conjunction with physical therapy. The physical therapy offers long-lasting improvement while the Botox helps with pain relief during recovery.
Chiropractic adjustments involve applying controlled amounts of pressure to the spine in strategic locations. This can help improve the mobility of restricted joints. To help with neck pain, adjustments are performed at the facet joints.
While most patients see relief immediately after an adjustment, there is a risk of side effects for some. These side effects can include headaches, fatigue, increased discomfort, inflammation in the areas that were not targeted during treatment and elevated pain levels at the treatment area or another area of the back. These side effects typically resolve within a day or two of treatment.
Chiropractic care may also include a type of therapeutic massage known as the active release technique. During this therapy, the practitioner will use the fingers and thumbs to manipulate the tissue around the affected area. The patient will, during treatment, repeat a number of movements to make the muscles expand and contract. This treatment is designed to help the muscles become restored to their normal texture and to alleviate symptoms that include stiffness, pain, and inflammation. This sort of massage is also intended to reduce the incidence of tearing, scarring and tissue fusion during healing.
Acupuncture is a popular and low-risk treatment option for neck pain. This treatment reduces pain through the insertion of fine needles at strategic points in the body. Needles are inserted at depths of one to ten centimeters. Where and how they are inserted depends on the nature and region of the pain.
Electroacupuncture is another option that involves the use of mild electrical currents to disrupt pain signals. Research has indicated that acupuncture and electroacupuncture can boost blood flow to the injured area. This is associated with reduced pain, shorter recovery periods and increases in muscle strength. Acupuncture is well-recognized by medical organizations as an effective therapeutic choice for certain types of pain.
When to See PRM
Sometimes neck pain will resolve on its own. Other times, medical treatment is needed for full healing. See a doctor if you experience neck pain that:
- occurs more often than usual.
- is more severe than usual.
- gets worse over time instead of improving.
- does not respond to appropriately used over-the-counter medications.
- keeps you from working, sleeping or participating in your normal activities.
- causes you distress.
If you would like to find treatment options that enable you to control your pain more effectively, we can help. Performance & Regenerative Medicine treats an array of neck pain causes, which include:
- cervical radiculopathy.
- muscle strains and sprains.
- degenerative disc disorders.
And other conditions.
Request a Consultation
Dr. Mike Harris brings many years of pain management experience to every patient who he treats.
We believe you don’t have to live with pain. Neck pain is a symptom that should not be ignored or endured. Are you suffering from lingering or unexplained pain? Diagnosing the source is the first step to finding relief. Get in touch for a consultation today.