Neck Pain: Symptoms, Causes , Treatment & Diagnosis

When considering chronic or acute pain that occurs on the body, the back and neck are unquestionably the most commonly afflicted areas.

Neck pain is different, however, as its appearance is seen as a more ominous sign by many persons, since it is believed to indicate an imminent heart attack, high blood pressure or much more. In reality, none of these things need to be necessarily true, as neck pain most frequently occurs due to inflammatory processes.

Generally speaking, most times when neck pain occurs it is only self-limiting, and rectifies itself within a few days without intervention. If, however, you notice persistent neck pain that lasts longer than a week, it is imperative that you visit your physician to determine the best course of action.

Causes Of Neck Pain

The exact cause of neck pain can vary widely, based on its origin. For instance, damage or inflammation to the bone, muscle or supporting ligaments can all contribute to the development of neck pain. These are the most common associated causes of neck pain:

Injury

The neck is particularly susceptible to damage from injuries, whether that be from falls, sports related injuries or car crashes that may result in whiplash. Often times, injury results in abnormal displacement of the ligaments or muscles around the neck, and need to be addressed urgently.

The vertebrae of the neck may also be damaged during injuries, and while pain may be the immediate symptom, further damage to the spinal column can cause mobility issues or even paralysis.

Muscle Strain

Many persons that experience neck pain do so as a result of muscular strain, exacerbated by forcing the muscles into a position that is not anatomically normal.

For instance, bending over at a desk looking into your computer for several hours every day is not normal, and places undue stress on the neck.

Likewise, sleeping in an uncomfortable position for an extended period of time can also contribute to neck pain as a result of muscle tension.

Other possible causes of muscle strain include sudden jerky movements during exercise, or as a result of bad posture cultivated over your lifetime.

The good news, however, is that if your neck pain occurs as a result of muscle strain, fixing it is relatively simple given that you address it early.

Meningitis

Meningitis is a serious medical condition that causes inflammation of the membrane that coats the spinal cord and brain. It may be caused by bacteria, viruses or other causes, and may manifest as neck pain that occurs with headache and fever.

Meningitis is an emergency so if you notice other symptoms along with neck pain it is important that you consult your doctor immediately.

Arthritis

Arthritis is a disease associated with excessive inflammation in and around joints, with pain and tenderness. While it does not often affect the neck, it is still possible. When arthritis affects the neck it is commonly referred to as spondylosis, and may occur along with breakdown of the disks in the spine.

Miscellaneous Causes

  • Heart Attacks

As previously mentioned, neck pain may be an indicator that a heart attack looms on the horizon, though it often occurs with other presentations, such as shortness of breath, radiating arm pain and even nausea and profuse sweating.

  • Tumors

Cancerous growths can compress the spinal cord or other supporting tissue and result in pain. Pain of this type is more likely to appear chronic, and should be easily diagnosable.

Symptoms Of Neck Pain

While it is easy to think that there is nothing more to neck pain than “neck pain”, often times you may observe other findings as well. Other associated symptoms may include:

  • Pain upon moving or turning neck to the side
  • Numbness around the area where pain originates
  • Pulsing sensation or dizziness
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck
  • Sharp, intense pain upon touching the area
  • Upper back pain, which is a common occurrence with spondylosis
  • Fever

Treatment of Neck Pain

In most instances, when neck pain occurs it usually resolves without the need for you to visit your physician. In such cases, there are things you can do at home to see if you get relief from the pain first. Great at home management options include

Using Alternate Hot And Cold Compresses – often times alternating hot and cold water compresses to the area of the neck that feels painful is enough to give you relief. This is especially true if the cause of your neck pain was muscular in origin, as alternating temperatures help relax muscles and promote the removal of waste products that may have accumulated there.

Neck Exercises – simple side to side, and up and down movements are great exercises to help keep your neck muscles healthy. If you are unable to do this every day, or experience pain while performing it, there is a good chance that you may have damage to disks of the cervical spine.

Schedule Rest – often times performing physical activity while you actively have neck pain will exacerbate symptoms and can even worsen prognosis. It is a good idea to rest and slowly resume the activity as the pain weans.

Keep Moving – by this we mean to not stay in any position for a prolonged period of time. This can include sitting at the desk for hours, or standing. Be sure to alternate positions in a fairly reasonable time frame.

Try OTC Medication – these include painkillers such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen or naproxen to name a few. These provide pain relief and anti-inflammatory action to tackle neck pain.

Visiting Your Doctor

Even though most people are apprehensive about visiting their physician for anything, their job is to help you. Treatment approaches may include

  • Muscle relaxants – these relieve muscle spasms and ease strains
  • Steroid injections – these are very powerful anti-inflammatory medication that can suppress swelling, particularly if neck pain is the result injury of an autoimmune disorder
  • Prescription painkillers
  • Physical therapy if necessary
  • Hospitalization if neck pain occurs owing to a serious medical condition
  • Hot and cold therapy
  • A neck brace for traction
  • Surgery, often times only needed for damaged disks or vertebrae.

Diagnosis

Besides the presentation of pain which you described, your physician may also decide to run several other tests to diagnose or rule out the source of your neck pain. Common diagnostic techniques include:

X-Rays – to see the actual alignments of the vertebrae and if damage is present

CT Or MRI Scans – these offer a clearer picture of both bones and surrounding tissue, allowing the physician to clearly see if there is damage to a spinal disk.

Spinal Tap – this involves the insertion of a syringe into the lumbar spine to collect spinal fluid for analysis

Blood Tests-to check for the presence of inflammatory mediators or infections

Conclusion

The good news for people with neck pain is that if detected early enough, is usually correctable altogether. Given that the majority of cases are due the muscle strain from poor posture, sleeping position or overuse injuries, regularly scheduled massage sessions and the occasional ice and hot water treatment will do a far way in helping save you from the pain.

Just be sure to always consult your physician if the neck pain lasts more than a few days and does not appear to be subsiding at all.

Sources:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/neck-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20375581
https://www.medicinenet.com/neck_pain/article.htm#what_are_other_symptoms_that_are_associated_with_neck_pain

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