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Neck Pain: Possible Causes and Their Treatment

Updated: Feb 15, 2022

Neck pain is unpredictable and depending on the cause, can last from days to years. Usual reasons that can lead to neck pain include herniated disc, osteoarthritis, pinched nerve, spinal stenosis, mental and physical strain and stress, tumours, poor posture, and other health conditions.

What is Neck Pain?

Neck pain is the pain you feel in or around the spine just under your head, known as the cervical spine. Neck pain is generally a symptom of a variety of different injuries or medical conditions.

You may have axial neck pain which is usually felt in the neck or radicular neck pain during which the pain starts to shoot into other areas such as the shoulders or arms. It may be acute in which case the pain could last from days to up to 6 weeks, or in the case of chronic pain, the pain can last longer than 3 months, to even a couple of years.

Neck pain can reduce your quality of life, or it can even interfere with your daily activities if left untreated.

Who is Affected By Neck Pain?

Neck pain is generally very common. It affects about one out of three individuals at least once a year. This is found more commonly in women than in men, and with age your chance of developing it increases.

What Does Neck Pain Feel Like?

Some people describe the pain as:

Increased sensitivity along with mild pressure applied to the neck.

A persistent ache.

Increased tightening/tension in the muscles in the neck.

A stabbing or burning pain.

Neck pain along with headache and numbness, or tingling in one or both arms.


What Are The Possible Causes of Neck Pain?

Many different medical injuries and issues could cause neck pain. Some conditions that may cause neck pain include:

Injury: Trauma as a result of sudden forced movement of the head or neck and whiplash or rebound in the opposite direction can cause soreness and pain. The vertebral joints, muscles, ligaments, nerve roots, and discs in the spine and the neck can be affected in trauma injuries.

Aging: Degenerative conditions like spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spaces in the spine) and osteoarthritis (the wearing down of joint cartilage) can lead to neck pain as you get older. With time, motion and stress could lead to spinal disc degeneration, causing a pinched nerve or a herniated disc.

Conditions that affect spinal balance: Being overweight, poor posture (sitting for extended periods of time; poor chair/keyboard/computer positioning), weak abdominal muscles can all contribute to neck pain and affect spine posture.

Physical strain: Overusing your neck muscles while performing strenuous activities or repetitive actions or can lead to pain and stiffness.

Mental stress: Tightening your neck muscles as a result of tension generally causes neck pain and stiffness.

Growths: In a few cases, masses including cysts, tumours, and bone spurs can also result in neck pain.

Other health conditions: Rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis, cancer etc.


How is Neck Pain Diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose neck pain with a study of one’s medical history and physical examination. Your doctor may feel and move your neck around to find motion problems and locate pain. Doctors also check your reflexes and muscle strength. Your doctor will enquire about previous neck injuries that may have caused a herniated disc or whiplash. Your doctor may also ask about your work or other activities that can affect your neck.

To diagnose the reason behind the pain, your doctor may utilise imaging tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), X-ray, or computed tomography (CT). These tests may also show damage, and other issues in the surrounding tissues and bones of your neck.

Other tests that your doctor may request for includes the nerve conduction studies, electromyography, nerve root block and/or myelogram. These tests take a closer look at the discs in the spine, the spine itself, check for the function of muscle and nerves response and the source of pain.

How is Neck Pain Managed or Treated?

Treatment for neck pain differs depending on the cause behind it. It aims to improve function and relieve pain. Standard treatments for this symptom include:

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) helps to reduce pain by disrupting the pain signal with a low-level electrical current which is applied to the skin close to the nerves causing the pain.

Medicines that include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help ease inflammation and pain, and muscle relaxants to assist in the healing process.

Traction to help in relieving pain with the use of inflatable devices.

Steroid injections near the nerve roots to help inflammation and relieve pain.

Physical therapy (exercises to strengthen and stretch muscles and tendons in the neck).

Surgery to fuse some vertebrae in the spine, or repair damaged or compressed spinal discs.

What Can I Do To Relieve Neck Pain at Home?

Your physical therapist or doctor can suggest steps you can take at home to relieve neck pain. These may include:

Taking over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen or aspirin may appear to be the right choice, but it is always best advised to consult with an orthopedist before starting any medications.

Using heat or ice packs.

Temporarily discontinuing physical activity.


Doing gentle exercises or stretches.

Long-term strategies that help reduce neck pain include:

Reduce your stress level. Meditate, walk, try a yoga class, get a massage, exercise.

Quit smoking. Smoking tends to slow healing and damages bone structure.

Do exercises that strengthen your shoulder and neck muscles.

Lose weight if you are obese.


When Should I Call the Doctor if I Have Neck Pain?

You should get in touch with your doctor if you have neck pain that’s interfering with your work or other daily activities.

In a few cases, neck pain could also be a sign of a medical emergency. Seek immediate medical care if your neck pain:

Occurs with loss of coordination in arms or legs, or weakness in legs.

Includes dizziness, headache, vomiting, or nausea.

Develops after an accident.

Occurs with fever, chills, or unexplained weight loss.

Happens with tingling or numbness in the shoulders, arms, or legs.

Does not respond to over-the-counter medications.

Does not reduce after one week.

Involves loss of bladder or bowel control.

Arises along with a stiff neck.

Stays the same when moving or resting

If you have been suffering from recurring pain in the neck and would like a professional expert to oversee your issue. You can call or book an appointment with us at 1 Health Medical Centre to have our expert orthopedist prescribe for you the most accurate solution to help get rid of your neck pain for good.


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