What is Neck Pain?
Your neck is made up of vertebrae that extend from the skull to the upper torso. Cervical discs absorb shocks between the bones. The bones at the top of your spine, along with your muscles, tissues and ligaments support your head and allow for motion. When one or more of these soft tissues becomes sprained or strained, the inflammation can subsequently cause neck pain or stiffness that requires treatment and physiotherapy.
To have neck pain severe enough to require treatment is more common than most patients realize. We see a lot of neck pain cases at our clinic in Bangkok. Unfortunately neck pain is not always centralized in the neck. It can start in the neck, but can radiate across your whole upper body, affecting your shoulders, arms, chest and even cause headaches. Furthermore, irritation of the spinal cord can also cause pain from the neck down to the legs.
Living with neck pain so severe that it requires physiotherapy and treatment can be miserable, making it hard to focus and get through the day. It can also interfere with daily life, including your ability to sleep, be productive at work, and enjoy leisure time with friends and family. This is why strengthening your shoulders, using good body mechanics, and visiting BPC are great ways to ensure your neck stays strong and flexible and that you avoid the need for any treatment for neck pain.
Common causes of neck pain needing treatment and physiotherapy are:
Causes of Stiff Necks and Neck Pain in Everyday Life:
- Poor posture
- Leaning over your computer for long hours, also known as forward head posture
- Hunching over your workbench
- Excessive smartphone usage either while typing or holding your phone between your ear and shoulder when you talk
- Long drive times
- Bad sleep habits – i.e. sleeping with your neck in a bad position
- Carrying a heavy bag or purse
- Whiplash – when your head is forced to move forward or backward beyond the normal range of motion. This unnatural force of movement causes the neck to tighten and contract, creating muscle fatigue which results in pain and stiffness. This usually occurs from an automobile accident.
- Sports – many contact sports including indoor soccer, basketball, wrestling are also prone to neck injuries, as the sports often involve contact. They can cause your neck to move beyond its natural range of motion. Non contact sports like diving could also cause neck injuries.
- Repetitive motions – turning the head in a repetitive manner, such as side to side while dancing or swimming, may lead to overuse of the neck’s muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
- Cervical Osteoarthritis – just like other joints in your body, your neck joints wear down with age. Osteoarthritis causes the cartilage (cushions) between your vertebrae (bones) to deteriorate. Your body then forms bone spurs that affect joint mobility and cause pain.
- Nerve compression – herniated disks or bone spurs in the vertebrae of your neck can press on the nerves branching out from the spinal cord, causing pain, numbness, and in rare cases, paralysis.
- Smoking – this speeds up the degeneration of the cervical discs in between vertebrae, which are used to absorb shock. When the discs dry out, it results in irritating the nerves and brings about pain that radiates from the neck to the shoulders, arms, hands and fingers.
Types of Neck Pain – BPC can treat them all:
- Stiff neck – soreness and difficulty moving the neck, especially when trying to turn the head from side to side.
- Sharp pain – this pain may be localized to one spot and might feel like it is stabbing or stinging. This type of pain typically occurs in the lower neck.
- General soreness – this discomfort is typically felt in a broader area or region of the neck. It is described as tender or achy, not sharp.
- Radicular pain – this pain can radiate along a nerve from the neck into the shoulder and arm. The intensity can vary and this nerve pain might feel like a burning sensation. This pain can lead to problems with reflexes, sensation, and strength, and may be experienced in the arm due to nerve root compression.
- Headaches – sometimes an irritation in the neck can affect muscles and nerves connected to the head and result in minor to severe headaches.
Range of Symptoms
The duration of neck pain is commonly classified as follows:
- Acute – pain that lasts less than 4 weeks.
- Subacute – pain that lasts 4 to 12 weeks.
- Chronic – pain that lasts 3 or more months.
When neck pain is persistent or keeps occurring over a period of several months, it is typically due to spinal degeneration from wear-and-tear over time (also called cervical spondylosis).
As spinal degeneration progresses, there is an increased risk for a narrowing of the cervical foraminal stenosis or the spinal canal (cervical central stenosis). If the nerve root or spinal cord becomes impinged, pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness may radiate into the arms starting from the neck.
Neck Pain FAQs
Neck pain is concerning when it is accompanied by severe or persistent symptoms such as numbness or weakness in the arms or hand, shooting pain down the arms, difficulty sleeping or sitting , problems with range of motion,vertigo, or loss movement . If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to seek immediate medical attention.
The main cause of neck pain is often musculoskeletal in nature, resulting from strain or injury to the muscles, ligaments,nerve or joints in the neck. Poor posture, repetitive motions, whiplash injuries, osteoarthritis and muscle tightness are common causes of neck pain. However, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis, as other underlying conditions can also contribute to neck pain.
Neck pain is usually not serious and often improves with conservative treatment measures such as rest, gentle exercises, and over-the-counter pain medications. However, if the pain is severe, persistent, or accompanied by concerning symptoms, it is advisable to seek medical evaluation to rule out any underlying conditions that may require specific treatment.
"Several illnesses can cause neck pain, including:
- Cervical disc herniation: When the cushioning discs between the vertebrae in the neck bulge or rupture, it can lead to neck pain.
- Cervical spondylosis: This is a degenerative condition that involves the wear and tear of the spinal discs and joints in the neck.
- Meningitis: Inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord can cause neck pain along with other symptoms.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: This autoimmune condition can affect the joints in the neck, leading to pain and stiffness.
-Myofascial pain syndrome : A chronic pain disorder characterized by widespread pain, including the neck region.
It is important to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis if you are experiencing persistent or concerning neck pain."
Neck pain is not typically a direct symptom of heart disease. However, in some cases, heart-related conditions such as angina or heart attack can cause referred pain that radiates to the neck, jaw, or left arm. If you experience sudden or severe chest pain, shortness of breath, or other signs of a heart attack, it is crucial to seek emergency medical attention immediately.
A physiotherapist specializes in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of musculoskeletal conditions, including neck pain. They may perform a thorough evaluation of your neck and surrounding areas to identify the underlying causes of your pain. Treatment techniques employed by physiotherapists may include manual therapy, exercises to improve strength and flexibility, posture correction, pain management strategies, and ergonomic recommendations. The specific treatment plan will depend on the individual needs and condition of the patient.
The choice between a physiotherapist and a chiropractor depends on your personal preference and the nature of your neck pain. Both professions can provide effective treatment for neck pain, but their approaches may differ. Physiotherapists often use a broader range of treatment techniques, including exercises and functional movements, while chiropractors primarily focus on spinal manipulation and adjustments. It is recommended to consult with both professionals, if possible, and choose the one with whom you feel most comfortable and confident in their approach.
Yes, massage therapy can be beneficial in treating neck pain. Massage techniques, such as deep tissue massage, or trigger point therapy, can help reduce muscle tension, improve blood circulation, and promote relaxation in the neck and surrounding areas. However, it is important to consult with a qualified massage therapist who has experience in treating neck pain to ensure the appropriate techniques are used and to avoid aggravating any underlying conditions.
The duration of physical therapy for neck pain can vary depending on the individual's condition, severity of symptoms, and response to treatment. In general, a course of physical therapy for neck pain may range from a few weeks to several months. The frequency and duration of sessions will be determined by the physiotherapist based on your specific needs and progress throughout the treatment.
The time it takes for neck pain to heal can vary depending on the underlying cause, severity of symptoms, and individual factors. In many cases, neck pain improves with conservative treatment measures such as rest, gentle exercises, and pain management strategies within a few days to a few weeks. However, for more complex or chronic cases, it may take longer to achieve significant improvement. It is important to follow the recommended treatment plan and consult with a healthcare professional for guidance throughout the healing process.