Neck pain is very common and often responds to simple home treatments. However, more serious problems like a herniated disc can require steroid injections or, rarely, surgery.
A healthcare provider can usually diagnose neck pain with a medical history and physical exam. They may also order imaging tests to look for a cause of neck pain, such as an X-ray or an MRI. For more information about the treatment visit Saunders Therapy Centers, Inc.
The neck supports the head’s weight and comprises seven bones (vertebrae) stacked one on each other with two facet joints and discs. Ligaments and muscles hold these together. Neck pain is usually caused by muscle strain or problems with the disks and facet joints.
Usually, neck pain is not serious and heals itself with time. However, it can be a serious problem if it leads to a loss of movement or balance and can affect your work, social life, and family activities. If you have chronic neck pain, it is important to manage it well to prevent further damage and slow the return of the pain.
Most neck pain can be diagnosed based on symptoms and a physical exam. Your healthcare provider may also order imaging scans, such as X-rays, CT, or MRI, to help find what is causing your neck pain. These tests can show if bone spurs, degenerative changes, or other conditions pinch the spinal cord or nerves.
Applying a cold compress, such as a bag of frozen vegetables or a frozen towel, for 15 minutes several times a day can reduce swelling and ease the pain. Heat can also be helpful, and you can use a hot water bottle, a microwaveable wheat bag, or a reusable heating pad from chemists or sports shops.
Having good posture is essential to prevent neck pain and stiffness. Sit up straight at work, don’t slouch while watching TV or using the computer, and don’t carry heavy loads on your shoulders. Sleeping on your side or with a supportive pillow can also be helpful.
Stress can worsen neck pain, so it’s a good idea to learn relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation. Many books, tapes, and MP3 downloads that can teach you how to relax are available. You can also ask your healthcare provider or a physiotherapist for advice on stress reduction. Avoiding foods high in sugar and trans fats, which can contribute to inflammation, can also help.
Neck pain and stiffness often respond to self-care, including home treatments like ice packs and over-the-counter pain relievers. But if your symptoms persist or worsen over time, you should talk to a spine specialist.
Your healthcare provider will do a physical exam and ask about your symptoms and past medical history. They’ll check your neck for tenderness and observe how your head moves. They may also feel for signs of a herniated disk or other serious problems. They might also order imaging tests, like a CT scan or MRI, to identify problems in your neck and surrounding structures. These tests combine X-rays with computer technology to create cross-sectional images of your neck.
Pain medications, including NSAIDs and acetaminophen, are typically tried first to ease pain and stiffness. But it’s important to read the label and follow instructions carefully when taking these drugs, especially long-term. Regular acetaminophen use can cause liver damage.
If over-the-counter medications don’t provide relief, your doctor may prescribe stronger medication to help you get through a flare-up. These can include prescription-strength NSAIDs or muscle relaxants. They might also recommend spinal manipulation to ease your pain or trigger point injections that inject a local anesthetic into tight muscles in the neck.
These can be painful, but they do help to reduce pain and tightness and speed healing. Some doctors may also suggest corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation, ease pressure on a nerve, and reduce pain.
When muscle spasms occur in your neck, it can make it difficult to turn your head. These can be very uncomfortable and may last a few hours or days. If not treated, your neck muscles can become weak and stiff and take longer to recover. Muscle spasms can be helped by doing gentle stretches, taking over-the-counter pain relievers, and applying heat to the area. Other treatment options that can help are chiropractic, physiotherapy, osteopathy, and remedial massage. These can help with neck problems caused by poor posture, strain, arthritis, or whiplash.
Neck pain affects the cervical spine, which begins at the base of the skull and includes seven vertebrae (bones) separated by shock-absorbing discs, nerves, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. This region supports the weight of your head, upper body, and shoulders, so it is vulnerable to injury and can cause a wide range of symptoms. You may have axial neck pain that’s felt mostly in your neck or radicular neck pain, which shoots down your arms and hands. In most cases, neck pain isn’t serious and improves with conservative treatment, including pain medicines, exercise, and physical therapy.
Physical therapy can help reduce neck pain by improving the strength and flexibility of your neck muscles, which will support your neck and shoulder joints. You may also be taught strategies to maintain good posture, which will take pressure off your neck muscles and joints. In some cases, physical therapy is combined with hands-on treatments, such as massage therapy, dry needling, heat and cold therapy, and electrotherapy, to speed up healing.
Your physical therapist will begin by manually examining your neck and surrounding muscle areas to check for tenderness and pain. They may ask you to move your neck in different positions and feel the joint movement and stiffness. They will also perform an X-ray to check for problems with the bones in your neck, such as alignment issues or a slipped disk. They may order an imaging test, such as a magnetic resonance image (MRI), to see better the soft tissues in your neck and spine, like the discs, spinal cord, and nerves. They may also recommend a computed tomography (CT) scan, especially if they suspect you have a cyst or tumor.
Depending on the root cause of your neck pain, your physical therapist will suggest specific exercises and treatments. For example, you might learn to do a series of neck exercises that require you to tilt your head so one ear is near the shoulder and then slowly return it to a neutral position. This can help strengthen the neck muscles and prevent future injuries, such as a whiplash-associated disorder.
The neck is a very strong yet delicate structure. It carries a heavy load – your head weighs 11 pounds – supported by the neck muscles, ligaments, and bones (cervical vertebrae). Neck pain occurs when structures in this area are irritated or strained. Poor sitting or working postures, whiplash injuries, and degenerative diseases can all cause neck pain.
Most people with neck pain can benefit from a conservative treatment plan. This may include over-the-counter painkillers, heat or cold packs, exercise, and physical therapy. Medications to reduce swelling and muscle relaxants can also be helpful. Wearing a cervical collar to help support the spine and decrease movement can also be beneficial. Injections to reduce pain and inflammation and to block nerves can provide short-term relief.
When pain lasts a long time or is severe, a healthcare provider should be seen. This is especially important if a headache, fever, or weakness in the arms or legs accompanies neck pain. These could be signs of a brain tumor or stroke.
Neck pain often arises from the muscles and ligaments, but it can be caused by problems with the bones of the neck (vertebrae), spinal cord, nerves, and the discs that separate each bone. A herniated or slipped spinal disk can cause compression of the spinal nerves as they leave the neck and travel to the rest of the body. This can cause numbness and weakness in the arm or hand that the nerve supplies.
Some types of neck pain can be treated with physical therapy, acupuncture, or massage. A certified acupuncturist inserts thin needles into specific points on the skin (acupressure) to relieve pain and encourage healing. Some patients find this type of therapy to be more tolerable than others, but it can help to reduce pain and improve function for some people with chronic neck pain.
Staying in bed for a short time with neck pain is very important. Staying in bed for too long can cause your muscles to become weak and stiff, worsening pain. Your doctor or physiotherapist can show you proper sitting and working postures, stretching exercises, and movement techniques to help prevent neck pain. They may recommend other treatments such as acupuncture, chiropractic manipulation, or remedial massage.