Neck pain is discomfort in any of the structures in the neck. These include muscles and nerves as well as spinal vertebrae and the cushioning disks in between. Neck pain may also come from areas near the neck such as the shoulder, jaw, head, and upper arms.
When your neck is sore, you may have difficulty moving it, especially to one side. Many people describe this as having a stiff neck.
If neck pain involves nerves (for example, significant muscle spasm pinching on a nerve or a slipped disk pressing on a nerve), you may feel numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arm, hand, or elsewhere.
Causes of Neck pain
A common cause of neck pain is muscle strain or tension. Usually, everyday activities are to blame. Such activities include bending over a desk for hours, having poor posture while watching TV or reading, placing your computer monitor too high or too low, sleeping in an uncomfortable position, or twisting and turning the neck in a jarring manner while exercising.
Traumatic accidents or falls can cause severe neck injuries like vertebral fractures, whiplash, blood vessel injury, and even paralysis.
Other causes include:
Other medical conditions, such as fibromyalgia
Cervical arthritis or spondylosis
Small fractures to the spine from osteoporosis
Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal)
Infection of the spine (osteomyelitis, diskitis, abscess)
Cancer that involves the spine
For minor, common causes of neck pain:
Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Apply heat or ice to the painful area. One good method is to use ice for the first 48 - 72 hours, then use heat after that. Heat may be applied with hot showers, hot compresses, or a heating pad. Be careful not to fall asleep with a heating pad on.
Stop normal physical activity for the first few days. This helps calm your symptoms and reduce inflammation.
Perform slow range-of-motion exercises -- up and down, side to side, and from ear to ear -- to gently stretch the neck muscles.
Have a partner gently massage the sore or painful areas.
Try sleeping on a firm mattress without a pillow or with a special neck pillow. Use a soft neck collar for a short period of time to relieve discomfort.
You may want to reduce your activity only for the first couple of days. Then slowly resume your usual activities. Do not perform activities that involve heavy lifting or twisting of your back or neck for the first 6 weeks after the pain begins. After 2 - 3 weeks, slowly resume exercise. A physical therapist can help you decide when to begin stretching and strengthening exercises and how to do them.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Seek immediate medical help if you have a fever and headache, and your neck is so stiff that you cannot touch your chin to your chest. This may be meningitis. Call your local emergency number or get to a hospital.
Call your health care provider if:
Symptoms do not go away in 1 week with self care
You have numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arm or hand
Your neck pain was caused by a fall, blow, or injury -- if you cannot move your arm or hand You have swollen glands or a lump in your neck
Your pain does not go away with regular doses of over-the-counter pain medication You have difficulty swallowing or breathing along with the neck pain
You have pain that gets worse when you lie down or wakes you up at night You have such severe pain that you cannot get comfortable
You lose control over urine or stool (incontinence)
Most of the time, neck pain will get better in 4 - 6 weeks using these approaches.
Exams and Tests
Your doctor will probably not order any tests during the first visit, unless you have symptoms or a medical history that suggests a tumor, infection, fracture, or serious nerve disorder. In that case, the following tests may be done:
X-rays of the neck
CT scan of the neck or head
Blood tests such as a complete blood count (CBC)
A spinal tap for a cerebrospinal fluid analysis if meningitis is suspected
MRI of the neck
If the pain is due to muscle spasm or a pinched nerve, your doctor may prescribe a muscle relaxant and possibly a more powerful pain reliever. Over-the-counter medications often work as well as prescription drugs. The doctor may prescribe a neck collar or, if there is nerve damage, refer you to a neurologist or neurosurgeon for consultation.
If meningitis is suspected, you will be sent to an emergency department for further tests, antibiotics, and hospital admission.
Use relaxation techniques and regular exercise to prevent unwanted stress and tension to the neck muscles.
Learn stretching exercises for your neck and upper body. Stretch every day, especially before and after exercise. A physical therapist can help.
If you tend to get neck pain from exercise, apply ice to your neck after physical activity.
Use good posture, especially if you sit at a desk all day. Keep your back supported. Adjust your computer monitor to eye level. This prevents you from continually looking up or down.
If you work at a computer, stretch your neck every hour or so. Use a headset when on the telephone, especially if answering or using the phone is a main part of your job.
When reading or typing from documents at your desk, place them in a holder at eye level. Evaluate your sleeping conditions. Make sure your pillow is properly and comfortably supporting your head and neck. You may need a special neck pillow. Make sure your mattress is firm enough.
Use seat belts and bike helmets to prevent injuries.
Exercises & Yoga for Neck Pain and Spondylosis
Cervical Spondylosis Exercises
There are three different ways of treating the cervical spondylosis viz., rest, exercises and medication. When the neck pain worsens, many doctors recommend surgery. However, in most of the cases, physical therapy exercises work well to treat the cervical spondylosis.
For performing this exercise stand straight with a little distance between your legs and hands on your hips. Now, do half circles in the front by moving the neck from left to right. For this, you have to look towards the left side and then slowly drop the chin to your chest and again look to the right hand side. Then repeat this exercise while coming back from the right hand side to the left hand side. Repeat this exercise for around five times and remember not to do this exercise very fast. Also, do not apply jerk to your neck and perform controlled movements of the neck.
Stand with distance between your legs which is shoulder width apart. Now, lift up your shoulders, so that, your shoulders are in a hunched position. Then relax them again and perform almost five reputations of this exercise. In the similar manner, roll your shoulders in a circular motion (clockwise) with your hands straight along your body. Repeat this in anti-clockwise direction also. Perform five reps of this cervical spondylosis exercise
Place your arms straight in front of you, with the palms facing each other. Lift your arms and bring them near your ears and while doing so, inhale. Do it slowly and see whether you can bring the arms close to the ears without any pain and difficulty. Perform almost eight reps of this exercise. If you are not able to do this exercise, you must consult your physical therapist.
Yoga Exercises for Cervical Spondylosis
Sit on your folded knees with one knee above the other. Keep your back straight and place your right palm on your right shoulder blade and while doing this inhale. Now take your left arm to the back and try to touch the fingers of the right palm. Remain in this position for 3 counts in your mind. Then reverse the hands and perform the asana again.
Stand straight and bring your feet together to do tadasana. Raise your arms over the head and inhale. Lock your fingers such that your palms face the sky. Stretch your body in an upward direction. Then, place your hands on the top of your head and exhale while doing this. Again, inhale and place your hands above your head. Perform five reps initially