Neck pain is a leading cause of pain in the aging population, as well as subsequent to auto accident-whiplash type injury, in which the neck is violently snapped back, then forward, after the victim is usually hit from behind, by another vehicle.
Neck pain can arise from a multitude of causes. This is usually what produces the symptoms experienced by the patient. The etiology must be diagnosed, and treatment will be aimed at the appropriate source. Sometimes, there are several causes that occur simultaneously. This makes diagnosis and treatment more complex. Surgery is usually a last resort for pain in and of itself, however if neurological symptoms become evident, it may be the necessary avenue to pursue.
Poor posture certainly contributes to neck pain. But the design of your neck also makes it vulnerable. All the interconnected structures that give your neck its incredible range of motion are subject to the wear-and-tear damage of arthritis and the "overstretching" injuries of whiplash.
Neck pain accompanied by a headache and fever could be a symptom of meningitis, an infection of the membranes that surround your brain. If your neck is so stiff that you can't touch your chin to your chest, you should seek immediate medical attention.
Your neck contains bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, muscles and nerves, any of which can hurt. Neck pain also may come from regions near your neck, such as your jaw, head and shoulders. Conversely, problems in your neck can make other parts of your body hurt, such as your upper back, shoulders or arms.
If your nerves are involved in your neck pain, you may also feel numbness, tingling or weakness in your arms or legs.
Neck pain can be posterior (along the back aspect of the neck), anterior (along the front of the neck) and can often radiate to the upper or lower extremities, or even to the skull, and produce headaches.
Muscle irritations are usually easy to self-diagnose. They typically come on after excessive activity, a period of overuse or prolonged postures that put excessive strain on your neck muscles. But they usually get better on their own within a few days to a couple of weeks. If the pain doesn't let up within a week or two, see your doctor.
Also see your doctor if the following signs and symptoms occur in conjunction with neck pain:
Your doctor often will be able to diagnose the cause of your neck pain and recommend treatment just by asking questions about the type, location and onset of your pain.
In less clear-cut cases, your doctor may use imaging techniques such as X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT) scans. These tests may show compression of nerve roots, narrowing of nerve root outlets, spinal cord problems and disk problems.
Electromyography (EMG), a test that evaluates the electrical activity in nerve and muscle, may help determine if there's nerve damage. And myelography, or X-ray imaging of the spinal cord after injection of a dye beneath its tough outer membrane, may be helpful in determining if a disk, bone or other growth is crowding the nerves or spinal cord.
Most neck pain responds well to home care. Neck injuries or strains often result in painful inflammation. You may want to try over-the-counter pain relievers that also combat inflammation, such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve). Acetaminophen relieves pain but not inflammation.
Ice is another good way to reduce inflammation. Heat can help relax sore muscles, but it sometimes aggravates inflammation, so use it with caution. Apply heat or ice for 15 to 20 minutes, with a 40-minute rest between applications.
For pain that doesn't get better with simple home-care measures, your doctor may recommend:
Most neck pain is associated with poor posture. The goal is to keep your head centered over your spine, so gravity works with your neck instead of against it. Some simple changes in your daily routine may help.