Neck Pain: Common Causes, Signs, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Written by - Reviewed by Consumer Health Digest Team

Published: Jul 2, 2013 | Last Updated: Mar 27, 2019

What is Neck Pain?

It is a common belief that neck pain is caused just because of the straining of the neck muscles. But in reality, the pain can be caused due to pain in the adjacent muscles like the shoulders, face, and the upper arms. Neck pain or cervicalgia is a problem, which is faced by many people in their lives. It was also believed that the condition of neck pain could be alleviated by taking complete rest. But now, extensive diagnosis is carried out to ascertain the real cause of neck pain. The treatment to be carried out will depend on the underlying cause and the severity of the condition.

What are Causes and Risk Factors of Neck Pain?

Neck Pain
  • The risk factors for neck pain can include involvement in accidents and activities like horse riding, bull riding, and contact sports.
  • Bending over a desk for long hours, placing computer monitor too low or too high, bad sleeping posture, and twisting and turning neck all of a sudden, can be responsible for neck pain development.
  • Abnormalities in bones and joints, and trauma due to accidents can cause the development of neck pain.
  • Vertebral fractures like whiplash, paralysis, and a blood vessel injury can also lead to the development of severe neck pain.
  • The other serious causes of neck pain can be carotid artery dissection, head and neck cancer, infections, spinal herniation, spinal stenosis, and spondylosis.
  • If you are extremely stressed out, then the neck muscles can be tensed, leading to the development of pain in that region.

What are Other Symptoms That are Associated With Neck Pain?

The pain in the neck region can be felt either as a sharp and stabbing sensation, or like a dull and cramp-like feeling. This pain can give rise to the development of severe headache. The pain will also lead to a weakening of the muscles and bones, which will make it difficult for you to move your head. You will experience numbness, swelling, and will also notice a change in skin color in the neck region.

What is the Treatment for Neck Pain?

The treatment for neck pain is decided after proper diagnosis of the condition. There are various methods of diagnosis, which can be carried out to ascertain the cause of neck pain.

  • X rays can identify the narrowing of the space that is present in between the spinal bones. X rays can reveal if the pain is a symptom of other conditions like arthritis, tumors, and instability of the spinal column.
  • MRI is a non-invasive method, which is used to treat neck pain. This procedure reveals the condition of the neurons and thus, one will be able to figure out the underlying cause of neck pain. Problems with tendons and ligaments, which lead to the development of neck pain, are also revealed by this method.
  • CT or Computerized Tomography is another method used to diagnose neck pain. This procedure is used as an alternative to the MRI method of diagnosis.

Once the condition of neck pain is diagnosed, then you can carry out the necessary treatment. There are many established procedures for treating neck pain. Acetaminophen and Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs are usually used to relieve mild to moderate neck pain. If the pain is mild, then you can even try using topical creams that are available over the counter. If the neck pain is due to instability and cancer, then surgery is the best option to get relief from the condition.

If you have mild neck pain, then you can try the hot and cold compress treatment to relieve your pain. You can keep a heat pad on your head for a period of 10 minutes. Following this, replace the heat pad with a cold compress. Repeat this process every hour until your neck pain subsides.

Massage therapy is another way of getting relief from neck pain. Massaging the region of the neck will increase the mobility, circulation, and flexibility in the region. It helps in relieving the stiffness in that region. This method is commonly used by chiropractors to treat neck pain caused due to arthritis. Stretching exercises are very helpful in getting rid of tension in the neck muscles. You can practice a wide range of slow-range motion exercises like moving your head gently from side to side, and moving your head up and down slowly.

Lastly, having a good posture is very much essential to get rid of neck pain. Use a chair, which can be reclined, slightly like the seat of a car. Do keep the monitor of your computer and your books for reading at the eye level, so that you do not strain your neck by looking up or down.

When Should You Seek Medical Care?

One should understand that neck pain could be a symptom of a more serious medical problem.

  • If the neck pain is accompanied by sensations like weakness, tingling, or numbness in the region of the arms and hands, then the cause of the pain can be considered to be a pinched nerve.
  • If the condition is accompanied by a severe headache or formation of swollen glands, then you should seek expert medical opinion, as it may be a symptom of an underlying thyroid condition.
  • You should also seek immediate medical help if you experience a shooting pain in the shoulders and down the arms, along with pain in the neck.

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Expert’s Opinion

Studies conducted by the American Academy of Pain Medicine and National Institute of Health[1] suggest that, neck pain is a leading complaint among people, and it accounts for about 15 percent of the cases reported every year. Experts in the field of neck pain studies and treatment state that there is no quick fix to the condition of back pain. The exact treatment procedure can only be finalized after understanding the real cause of the pain. Whatever be the method of treatment suggested by the doctor, it should be followed religiously to obtain the desired results.

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