Neck Pain: Causes and Solutions

11/15/2021 | 10 min. read

Healthy Directions Staff Editor

Healthy Directions Staff Editor

Experiencing neck pain has the potential to impact your entire day. While we often take the health and functionality of our musculoskeletal system for granted, focusing on ways to support your body has the potential to change your life.

Today we’ll take a look specifically at the causes of and solutions for neck pain so that you can have all the information you need to reach your optimal health.

The Symptoms of Neck Pain

Neck pain comes in different degrees and severities, which can make it easy to ignore at first. Being aware of the symptoms of neck pain, especially the less obvious ones, can be helpful when it comes to catching it early and putting a prevention plan into place.

Many people experience traditional neck pain, especially when sitting in certain positions for extended periods. However, it can also present as a decreased range of motion in the neck, muscle tightness or spasms, and headaches.

If your pain is severe, persists for multiple days without relief, is accompanied by weakness, numbness or tingling in the arms, or radiates, you should seek immediate medical attention.

What Causes Neck Pain?

Neck pain, like back pain, is a complicated issue. There are so many different types of neck pain that you can experience, and a wide variety of issues can cause them. That is why you must have any new or worsening neck pain evaluated by a medical professional.

Unfortunately, neck pain is also a common complaint--so common that up to 65% of people surveyed had experienced at least one episode of neck pain in the year prior. While the reasons people may suffer from neck pain are diverse, they typically fall into one of the following general categories.

  • Muscle strains - Muscle strains that lead to neck pain are often the result of poor posture, especially the type that happens on the job. When you sit in a position that does not appropriately support your neck, it puts an inappropriate amount of strain on your body. However, minor actions like frequently gritting or grinding your teeth or spending an extended amount of time looking at your smartphone can trigger neck pain.
  • Worn joints - All of the joints in the body are subject to the aging process, making it more likely that you’ll experience neck pain as you age. In addition, specific issues like osteoarthritis (the most common type of arthritis) can speed up the process.
  • Physical injuries - Injuries, especially whiplash resulting from automobile accidents, can strain the soft tissues in the neck and lead to both acute and chronic neck pain. These injuries can also lead to nerve compression, including herniated discs and bone spurs.
  • Certain diseases - In addition to osteoarthritis, other disease processes can also cause neck pain. These include, but are not limited to, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and meningitis.

How To Help Prevent Neck Pain

If you’re only experiencing occasional neck pain, learning prevention techniques can help stop it from becoming a more constant, chronic issue. When it comes to helping prevent neck pain, the key is finding ways to center your head more directly over your spine to keep your body in alignment.

One of the most important ways you can do that is by paying attention to how you sleep. Your sleep position can have a significant impact on how much neck pain you have when you wake up, and it’s much easier to fix than you may think.

Research has shown that sleeping on your back or your side is easiest on your neck. You will also want to have a supportive pillow (or pillows) to help keep your neck in alignment.

Exercise can also help to prevent neck pain. Strengthening the muscles in your entire body helps to support your neck. Core exercises, like sit-ups and planks, are beneficial. Don’t overwork yourself, though, and stop if you feel any pain. And you shouldn’t work out when you are having active neck pain,

A healthy diet can also play a part in a pain management treatment plan. Eating better can not only make you feel better overall, but it can also keep your weight in check. Extra weight can increase the strain put on your body, leading to widespread musculoskeletal pain. There are also specific nutrients that you can use to help improve your bone health.

In addition, there are plenty of small lifestyle changes that you can make that can help. For instance, if you carry a heavy backpack, especially if you tend to wear it on one specific shoulder, see what you can do to reduce the weight or wear it more evenly. You should also readjust your chair and desk to help you be more ergonomically correct — you want your computer monitor to be at your eye level with your knees slightly lower than your hips.

Potential Treatments

If your neck pain progresses to the point that medical treatment is needed, that order will need to come from your medical provider. They will often want to perform additional testing, like x-rays, CT scans, or MRIs, to find the root of the problem and treat it accordingly.

Depending on what they decide is explicitly causing your neck pain, there are various potential treatments. For some, that will include seeing a physical therapist.

For others, that may mean prescription medications, traction, and even possible surgery. You may even be able to use a TENS unit (short for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), which delivers tiny electrical impulses to the nerves surrounding where your pain is located.

In Summary

Neck pain is one of the most common problems that people deal with. It doesn’t discriminate, and it can affect anyone of any age at any time. Unfortunately, neck pain also has the power to impact your entire life negatively.

Hopefully, the experts at Healthy Directions have given you the information you need about neck pain causes and potential solutions. That way, you can do what you need to do to get yourself back on the most pain-free path possible.

Sources:

The epidemiology of neck pain | PubMed

Say “good night” to neck pain | Harvard Health

Neck Pain | International Association for the Study of Pain

Healthy Directions Staff Editor