Neck pain is one of the common cause of spinal pain following low back pain. Interestingly, the prevalence of neck pain is on rise, according to latest reports and research papers. In our day-to-day life and with increasing technology usage (smart phone, internet surfing and similar activities), many younger group of patients are getting affected with neck pain and its devastating long-term complications like chronicity of pain, refractory pain, headache and depression.
Pain in the neck or cervical pain manifests either as neck or upper back pain (around the scapular bone) or it can go up to the top of head known as “cervicogenic headache” or it can start from neck and radiate all the way to the forearm and hand. Sometimes, the neck pain can manifest as shoulder pain also.
Image credit : Florian Palatini
Causes of Neck Pain
Human neck is formed by cervical spine which consist of 7 pieces of bone called as vertebrae and the jelly-like substance in-between every bone called as “intervertebral disc” or simply disc. This disc acts as a cushion and shock absorber of whole spine and maintains flexibility. The spinal cord runs at the centre of the vertebral column. In the backside of vertebral column, there are ligaments, muscles, and small joints of spine.
Neck pain specialist Dr.Rajendra
The common causes of pain are as follows:
- Muscle strain or Myofascial Pain:
This is by far the most common cause of chronic neck pain. Because of prolonged sitting, bad posture, repeated use of smart phone with neck bending. This puts pressure on the cervical spine, muscle, tendon and ligaments and in long run causes neck pain.
With increased bending from smart phone use, the pressure on cervical spine increases causing further strain. This is known as “Text Neck Syndrome” a new entity. The cervical muscles also develop trigger points known as “taut bands” and is a common cause of chronic neck pain.
- Nerve compression from bulged disc:
This is 2nd most common cause of neck pain where pain starts from neck and radiates to the forearm and even fingers. The pain is typically throbbing, stabbing, pins needles type, tingling and may feel electric-shock like sensation sometimes. Hand may feel weak and activities can be difficult to do if the disc bulge is big and causing severe nerve compression. This pain is similar to “sciatica/slipped disc” pain of lower back.
Other small nerves can also get compressed in the neck leading to neck pain.
- Repeated injury to the cervical spine is another cause of pain.
- Arthritis- Wear and tear of small joints of cervical spine known as facet joints is another cause of chronic neck pain, especially in older population
- Migraine- Migraine headache also manifests as neck pain with stiffness, this is associated with headache.
- Diseases- Many other diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, mental stress etc acan cause neck pain.
- Hot fomentation to the neck and paraspinal muscles
- Topical anti-inflammatory gels for relieving spasm, and muscle inflammation
- Posture care
- Physical therapy and neck strengthening exercise
- Simple analgesics for few days
As discussed above, most chronic neck pains are because of poor posture and then age-related wear and tear like disc bulge or arthritis of spine joints.
Here are few tips when incorporated in your daily routine may help.
- Use proper posture in office or at home.
This is most important of all. We see patients in their 30’s with chronic neck pain and most are from desk job with prolonged sitting. Follow proper ergonomics which include standing and sitting in upright position where ones shoulders are in a straight line over your hips and your ears are directly over your shoulders and the computer screen is at eye level. When using cell phones, tablets and other small screens, keep your head up and hold the device straight out rather than bending your neck to look down at the device.
- Use ergonomic chair by adjust your desk, chair and computer so that the monitor is at eye level. Knees should be slightly lower than hips. Use your chair’s armrests.
- Take frequent breaks. If you travel long distances or work long hours at your computer, get up, move around, and stretch your neck and shoulders. Taking breaks every 40-50 minutes is recommended.
- Quit smoking. Smoking has been shown to increase the risk of developing neck pain.
- Avoid carrying heavy bags with straps over your shoulder. The weight can strain your neck.
- Sleep in a healthy position. Many people feel that they should not use pillows for spinal pain. This is a wrong concept. Your head and neck should be aligned with your body. Use a small pillow under your neck. Try sleeping on your back with your thighs elevated on pillows kept below your knee, which will relax your spinal muscles.
- Stay active. Daily exercise by 30-45 minutes of walking or cycling helps lose some weight and remain active.
Consult our Pain Specialist at Neuron Pain Clinic if your symptoms do not resolve or persist for a long time, if pain radiates to hands or if there is associated headache, tingling, weakness or numbness of hands.
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