Recent CDC data reports that almost 20% of people have experienced neck pain in the last three months. While there are a number of factors that could account for this, neck pain or stiffness is usually the result of neck muscles weakening from poor posture or misuse. The good news, however, is that there are some easy ways to prevent neck pain and to treat it if it occurs. Understanding more about the causes and available treatments will help to ensure that you do not suffer from ongoing neck pain.
Causes of Neck Pain
Your neck obviously plays an essential role in supporting the weight of your head; however, as a result of this task, it is especially vulnerable to injuries, strains and tears. Muscle strains due to overuse are one of the most common causes of neck pain that we see. Regularly looking down at a computer screen or a smartphone, driving for long periods of time or having poor posture are all habits that can lead to this type of strain. Additionally, neck pain after sleeping is often caused by a muscle strain as a result of sleeping at an awkward angle or making sudden jolting movements during the night.
Another common cause is pain resulting from the everyday wear and tear that comes from aging. Neck joints, like other joints in the body, wear down with age and can make movement painful. This wear and tear can include the deterioration of cartilage between vertebrae, which can intensify pain and lead to bone spurs or other abnormalities.
While it’s less common, neck pain can also be the result of other, more serious illnesses, including Rheumatoid Arthritis, some types of cancer and meningitis. Additionally, back injuries that affect nerves of the spinal cord – such as a herniated disc – can cause pain in the neck.
Finally, injuries due to sports, car accidents or other trauma can result in neck pain. Rear-end collisions causing whiplash, which is an injury that occurs when your head is jerked backwards and then forwards, are a particularly common type of injury leading to neck problems.
Preventing and Treating Neck Pain
Some relatively easy lifestyle modifications can often effectively prevent neck pain. To avoid muscle strain or injuries, try to consistently maintain good posture, use a headset or Bluetooth with your phone and, if you have to sit or drive for long periods, make sure that you take frequent breaks. Additionally, avoid the use of tobacco products and eliminate the habit of carrying heavy bags with a shoulder strap. Finally, be mindful of your sleeping position. While sleeping on your back is ideal, it’s most important to ensure that you aren’t sleeping on your stomach, which can twist and strain your neck. Consider sleeping on a firm mattress without a pillow or with a special sleeping pillow.
If you do begin experiencing neck pain, one easy and often effective way to treat it is through proper stretching. Given some of the common activities that can cause neck pain – from working at a computer to using a smartphone to sleeping – it’s often a good idea to consider doing these exercises as a preventative measure even if you’re not experiencing pain. Some effective neck pain exercises to stretch and strengthen your neck muscles are:
- Rolling your shoulders backwards and down
- Squeezing your shoulder blades together
- Pushing your head backwards against either a headrest or your hands
- Stretching your ear to your shoulder on each side
Please note, however, that if you’re experiencing pain, check with a doctor before doing any exercises to ensure that they are a safe treatment option for you.
In addition to stretching and exercise, there are a number of other effective, non-surgical neck pain treatments. The most standard treatments generally include a combination of icing or heating your neck, physical therapy and over-the-counter pain medications. Lifestyle modifications, as discussed above, can also be effective. Finally, injections of nerve blocks are an innovative, effective and minimally invasive way to treat neck pain. These cutting-edge injections provide relief by fighting inflammation and other conditions that cause neck pain.
As you have probably realized, all neck pain is not the same. As a result, it’s important to see an expert to evaluate the cause and severity of your pain in order to create the right treatment plan for you.
If you have neck pain that limits your ability to work, that prevents you from engaging in normal life activities or that has lasted for more than three days, call us to schedule an appointment. We’ll not only provide you relief through an innovative combination of therapies, but we will also diagnose any underlying conditions so that we can provide early, effective and comprehensive treatment.