Something happens as we age: If you sneeze the wrong way, you feel like you will inevitably pull something! So today, we’re focusing on neck pain. The good news? Neck pain is super common and rarely is the cause of a serious problem. So go ahead and warm up that heating pad because we’re here to help you figure out the cause of your neck pain and what treatment might be best for you.
Symptoms of Neck Pain
Neck pain can develop in a number of ways. Sometimes, it starts mild and worsens over time; other times, it occurs due to an injury; and sometimes, you just wake up with a stiff neck for seemingly no apparent reason. Neck pain symptoms include –
- Pain, often made worse by holding your head in one place for extended periods
- Muscle tightness and/or spasms
- Decreased ability or inability to move your head
- Sharp pain that typically feels localized
- Pain that radiates along a nerve from the neck to the shoulder and sometimes down the arm
- Trouble gripping or lifting objects
Causes of Neck Pain
Because we use our necks a lot, they are susceptible to injuries or conditions that can cause pain. Some common causes of neck pain include:
- Aging: As we get older, we are at higher risk for experiencing osteoarthritis, when joint cartilage begins to wear down; spinal stenosis, which occurs when the spaces in our spine begin to narrow; and spinal disk degeneration, which can lead to a herniated disc or a pinched nerve.
- Muscle Strains: Unfortunately, muscle strains can happen easily. If you work at a computer or read in bed, you risk straining your neck muscles.
- Mental Stress: Many people tend to tense up their neck muscles when stressed, which ultimately results in pain.
- Conditions: Poor posture, obesity, and weak abdominal muscles can cause neck pain.
- Growths: While rare, neck pain can result from tumors, cysts, or bone spurs.
Treating Neck Pain
Treatment of neck pain depends on the cause, but here are some of the standard ways to relieve neck pain:
- Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen can ease pain, reduce inflammation, and relax muscles. If these pain relievers just aren’t cutting it, talk to your doctor about muscle relaxers.
- A combination of ice or heat therapy can relieve some neck pain. Limit application to 15-20 minutes, and wait at least two hours between applications.
- TENS units (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) use a low-level electrical current to disrupt pain. This sounds intense, but it’s a super-simple mechanism to use.
- Sometimes, all it takes is a good massage to soothe muscle tension and work out any kinks.
- A physical therapist or chiropractor can help you improve your posture, align your neck and spine, and teach appropriate neck stretches and exercises.
- Your doctor may consider steroid injections at the nerve roots to relieve pain and inflammation.
- Reducing stress via meditation, yoga, or exercising could help alleviate neck pain caused by stress.
Preventing Neck Pain
- Practice good posture. This is especially important if you find yourself hunched over a computer for long periods. Make sure your shoulders are in a straight line over your hips and your ears are directly over your shoulders.
- Take five. If you sit for extended periods, get up, move around, and stretch often.
- Adjust your computer so that it’s at eye level.
- Avoid carrying heavy bags over your shoulder; instead, opt for a cross-body bag.