Understanding Neck Pain
Neck pain is any pain or discomfort felt in the bones (vertebrae), discs between vertebrae, muscles, joints or nerves of the neck. Some such discomfort, such as soreness, can be accompanied by stiffness, or difficulty moving your neck. Numbness, weakness or tingling in the hand or arm may accompany neck pain with compression of nerves.
What Causes Neck Pain?
Like any body pain, the root cause of neck pain can be as simple as muscle tension or muscle strain. However, there are neck pains rooted in disease or less common causes, some of which are:
- Fibromyalgia or other medical conditions
- A ruptured disk
- Small spine fractures which can be caused by osteoporosis
- Cancer involving the spine
How Can You Avoid Neck Pain?
For the typical neck pain causing muscle tension and muscle strain, one can likely look toward simple everyday activities. Monitoring your habits, both at home and at work, can help you identify the likely culprits for your neck pain. Keep an eye out:
- Poor posture for anything that requires focus like reading or watching television
- Bending over your desk for an extending amount of time
- Computer monitor in a position too low or high, causing you to have to scrunch or crane your neck
- Sleeping in a position that is uncomfortable
- Lifting anything too quickly
- To avoid injury, it is generally best to lift with your knees, rather than your back
- Poor posture can play into safely lifting as well
- Exercising with poor attention to your neck – turning or twisting your neck in a jarring way can cause injury
- Falls and accidents can also cause injuries that are severe, like whiplash, paralysis, injury to blood vessels or vertebral fractures
When Should You Seek Medical Attention for Your Neck Pain?
Some neck pain will go away on its own, but you should be aware that some neck pains combined with other symptoms should be treated as serious. You should seek medical attention immediately if you have:
- Headache and fever combined with a neck so stiff that you are unable to touch your chin to your chest.
- This could be a sign of meningitis, and you should call your local emergency number (911 in the US) or get to a hospital
- Heart attack symptoms: Sweating, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, jaw or arm pain
Even if not an emergency, you should also be aware of when to contact a medical professional if your neck pain is still a concern. Contact your doctor if:
- The neck pain is the result of an injury, blow or fall, this is an emergency
- Also, if you can’t move your hand or arm, have someone call for you
- Symptoms remain after week of self-care
- Your arm or hand are experiencing tingling, weakness or numbness
- Glands or swollen or you have a lump in your neck
- Over-the-counter medicine doesn’t eliminate the pain
- You experience difficulty breathing or swallowing as well
- Pain worsens when you lie down, or you cannot get comfortable
- Pain causes you to wake up from sleep
- You lose control over bowel movements or urination
- You have trouble balancing and walking
If your neck pain is not severe and does not meet the criteria for immediate or other medical attention, you can also try home care, which can include medicine, ice, heat and other methods.