Cervical Neck Pain - Causes, Symptoms and Treatments The cervical spine is an interesting and complex structure. It is capable of supporting a head weighing 15 or more pounds while moving in several directions. No other region of the spine has such freedom of movement! This combination however, complexity and mobility, make the neck susceptible to pain and injury. The causes of neck pain vary. Injury and accidents as well as the natural aging process are the two most common causes of neck pain. Whiplash is a common injury sustained during an auto accident. This is typically termed a hyperextension and/or hyperflexion injury because the head is forced to move backward and/or forward rapidly beyond the neck's normal range of motion. A motion such as a whiplash is one injury that can result in a significant amount of pain to someone’s neck. The unnatural and forceful movement affects the muscles and ligaments in the neck. The muscles will react by tightening and contracting creating muscle fatigue resulting in pain and stiffness. Degenerative disorders such as osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, and degenerative disc disease are known to affect the spine. These conditions, while not entirely unheard of in younger individuals, occur most commonly in seniors. Osteoarthritis is a common joint disorder causing progressive deterioration of cartilage. The body reacts by forming new bone termed osteophytes (bone spurs) that impact joint motion. Spinal stenosis causes the foramen, small neural passageways, to narrow possibly compressing and entrapping nerve roots. Stenosis may cause serious neck, shoulder, and arm pain and numbness when these nerves are unable to function normally. Degenerative disc disease (DDD) can cause the intervertebral discs to become less hydrated, resulting in decreased disc elasticity and height. Over time, a disc may bulge or herniate causing upper extremity pain, tingling, and numbness. Everyday life can, unfortunately, impact your spinal health over time. Poor posture, obesity, and weak abdominal muscles disrupt the spine's balance often causing the neck to bend forward to compensate. Not to mention, stress and emotional tension can cause muscles to tighten and contract resulting in pain and stiffness.
Although neck pain is commonly caused by strain, prolonged pain and/or neurologic deficit may be an indication of something more serious. These symptoms should not be ignored at any point in time. Spinal infection, spinal cord compression, tumor, fracture, and other disorders can occur. If head injury has been sustained, more than likely the neck will be dramatically affected as well. It is wise to seek medical attention promptly. What are the symptoms of cervical neck pain? If there is any numbness, tingling, tenderness, sharp shooting pain, fullness, difficulty swallowing, pulsations, swishing sounds in the head, dizziness or lightheadedness, and lymph node (gland) swelling. Depending how bad the condition is, sometimes neck pain is accompanied by upper back and/or lower back pain, as is common in inflammation of the spine from ankylosing spondylitis. How can cervical neck pain be treated? The treatment of neck pain depends on its precise cause. Treatment options include rest, heat or cold applications, traction, soft-collar traction, physical therapy (ultrasound, massage, manipulation), local injections of cortisone or anesthetics, topical anesthetic creams, topical pain-relief patches, muscle relaxants, analgesics, and surgical procedures. Home remedies for treatment, include Jacuzzi treatment, neck pain relief exercises and stretches, and neck pain relief products such as neck pillows for sleep and hot pads can be very beneficial for relief of some forms of chronic neck pain. There are various treatment options, depending on the particular neck problem and past treatment experiences. There is also the option of alternative treatments that have been used for chronic neck pain that include acupuncture. What is the recovery process? Take things easy. If you're like most people, you probably live a busy, hectic life. If you're living with cervical neck pain and have increased pain from injury or muscle pain, it's important to temporarily ease back on intense activities. While you are resting, find a comfortable position, preferably one that causes you the least amount of neck pain. You can place a rolled up towel or a pillow under your neck to help keep your neck in a neutral position. Resting doesn't mean crawling into bed and remaining perfectly still, however. Staying immobile for more than a day or two actually can be harmful because it can decondition the muscles that support your neck and actually increase neck pain in the long run. While your neck is in a healing stage, adjust your activity level to what you can comfortably handle. As you improve, it’s best to gradually increase your activity level back to normal.
Stretching can actually enhance the neck’s strength and give it flexibility. Once you have permission to perform a few stretching exercises from your doctor, do so. It's best to perform these exercises after warming up muscles with a warm shower, bath, or towel. Exercising is proven to be an effective way to treat neck pain. It's also important to keep active in general. 30 minutes of aerobic exercise (walking, biking, swimming) every day can improve blood flow, nourishing your spine to keep it healthy. Speak to your doctor, physical therapist, or a personal trainer with expertise in working with people with neck pain to determine the right exercises for you. Lastly, keeping a good posture is crucial and you should think about how you sit throughout the day. When sitting at the computer or watching television, don’t lean forward or stress your neck by looking downward at your cell phone. Why wait another day to get rid of any neck pain you may have? Neck pain can impact all aspects of your life so getting prompt, effective care is key. At the South Texas Spinal Clinic in San Antonio, there are certified and trained physicians who are capable of treating patients with the right care and treatment they may need.