Neck pain is a common complaint with many causes. Often, the problem resolves without treatment, but in rare cases, neck pain can be indicative of a more severe condition.
Symptoms of neck pain
Neck pain can range in severity from soreness or stiffness to intense pain. It often occurs when performing specific tasks, such as sitting at a computer, where there is little head movement or position change.
Muscle stiffness, muscle spasm, limited range of motion in the neck and headache are common neck pain symptoms. Shooting neck pain that travels to the shoulder or down the arm as well as neck pain accompanied by numbness or weakness of the hand or arm is indicative of a more serious condition and should be evaluated by a medical professional.
Causes of neck pain
There are many reasons an individual could experience neck pain, including:
- Muscle tension or strain caused by changing position infrequently, poor posture, grinding of the teeth, jaw tension or other activity that places strain on the neck muscles
Conditions such as degenerative disc disease, rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis
- Whiplash type injuries that occur when the head is first propelled back and then snaps forward
- Heart attack sometimes presents as neck pain, especially when accompanied by shortness of breath; pain in the chest, jaw or arm; nausea or vomiting and sweating
- Compressed nerves
Neck pain treatment
Neck pain that is not associated with impact, such as a motor vehicle accident or sports injury, and is not accompanied by other symptoms, may respond to self-care measures. This includes over-the-counter pain relievers, 20 minutes of cold packs alternated with 20 minutes of a heating pad, and gentle stretching exercises.
Neck pain that doesn’t improve within one to two weeks should be evaluated by a doctor. Medical treatment may include the following:
- Prescription strength medication
- Physical therapy
- Short-term use of soft neck collar to support the neck – should be applied intermittently for a few hours a day
- Steroid injections into the muscles or facet joints of the cervical spine
- Surgery to relieve nerve compression may be recommended in rare cases
Prevention of neck pain
The following measures may be helpful in preventing neck pain:
- Maintaining good posture by keeping spine straight, shoulders back and head in alignment with the body
- Stopping for frequent rest breaks when driving or working at the computer. This includes walking around and stretching to prevent muscle strain
- Avoiding the use of fat, fluffy pillows that elevate the head unnaturally
- Practicing neck strengthening exercises