The expression ‘a pain in the neck’ is given to something or someone that is very troublesome and annoying. If you’ve ever gotten a pain in your neck, then you will appreciate the apt use of the idiomatic expression. A neck pain is, after all, one of the most common problems anyone is bound to get at one time or another. In fact, it is so common that it is estimated that about two-thirds of the population will have neck pain at some point in their lives. The scientific name for neck pain is cervicalgia, but most people just simply say “Argh!”. Neck pain can be classified as acute or chronic. When it lasts for just a few hours to a few weeks, then it is considered acute. However, if the pain lasts for more than several weeks, then it is already considered as chronic pain. Usually, chronic pain signals something that is far more serious and as such, should be reported to a physician right away. If you can’t touch your chin to your chest because of severe neck pain even though you’ve already administered some self-care, then it is recommended that you seek medical attention right away. In diagnosing the cause of your neck pain, your doctor will usually just check the exact location of the pain, what type it is (whether it is throbbing or sharp) and the onset of the pain. He or she will do this via a series of specific questions that you must answer properly. Incorrect replies may lead to incorrect diagnosis and treatment. In instances where the neck pain doesn’t seem to be clear-cut, your doctor may resort to use imaging diagnostic technologies and other tests such as x-rays, computerized tomography (CT) scans, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs). Most cases of neck pain though do not require these.
Symptoms of Neck Pain
You would think that a neck pain only has one symptom: neck pain. After all, it isn’t like other more complicated conditions where you have symptoms as long as a grocery list, right? Not exactly. While it is true that pain in the neck area is the primary symptom, there are also lesser ones that accompany it. They may include:
- stiffness in the neck that translates to pain when you try to move it
- shoulder pain that accompanies the neck pain
- back pain in addition to the neck pain
- difficulty swallowing
- swollen glands
Causes of Neck Pain
Pain that occurs in the neck is a common medical condition. What’s more, you might be surprised to know that some neck pains develop over time without your knowledge. Repetitive activities or habits are usually contributive factors to the development of neck pain. In any case, neck pain can be the result of several causes, including:
- Muscle strains. Too much strain in the neck muscles can contribute to neck pain. Strains can be triggered from overuse, such as when you spend too much time hunched over a steering wheel or doing some desk work. If you keep at it for too long, the muscles in your neck become fatigued and will eventually strain. Overusing of the neck muscles repeatedly will lead to chronic neck pain and you don’t want that.
- Disk disorders. Your vertebrae has cushioning disks that help in cushioning and softening the forces created when you walk, jump, or engage in any activity that might otherwise be dangerous to your vertebrae. As you age, these disks become stiff and dry, narrowing the spaces in your spinal column where the nerves are in. They can also herniate, meaning the inner cartilage material of the disk protrudes through the tougher cartilage covering, irritating the nearby nerves. Spurs can also press on your nerves, causing pain.
- Worn joints. Your neck joints, like the other joints in your body, also experience wear and tear as you age, resulting in osteoarthritis in your neck.
- Injuries. Whiplash injuries which occur when the head is jerked forward and back (such as during rear-end collisions) can stretch the soft tissues of the neck beyond their limits. Pain is usually the end result.
Any of these can cause you to develop chronic or acute neck pains. Your doctor will be able to pinpoint the exact reasons after several tests.
Getting Rid of Neck Pains
The good news is that neck pains are very much treatable; in fact, they usually go away without some medications after a few days. In any case, here are several steps you can take to alleviate the pain:
- Try taking pain relievers. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and aspirin can help lessen the pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are very effective against pain caused by inflamed or swollen neck muscles.
- Apply hot and cold compress. You can also reduce the swelling by applying an ice pack or some cold compress on the neck area for about 20 minutes. Then, alternate the treatment with heat. Do this several times a day. You can also take a warm shower or a heating pad set at a low setting. Be advised though, that while heat can help relax sore muscles, it can also aggravate the inflammation, so use it with caution.
- Do some neck exercises. Gently stretch and perform some neck exercises just to help alleviate the pain and keep the muscles working in good condition. Stretch your neck in as many directions as your pain allows. Also, you can hire a physical therapist to help you, if your neck pain is chronic.
- Get plenty of rest. Rest is very important in giving your neck muscles time to relax. Lie down so your neck won’t be supporting the head all the time. However, prolonged rest can also cause stiffness so be careful. The key is in moderation.
As always, when a neck pain becomes too unbearable to the point that it interferes with your daily life, then it is time that you have it checked. It might be an underlying symptom of something far more serious, and if so, it will really become a pain in the neck.