Neck Pain Treatment
Neck pain is a common problem, with two-thirds of the population having neck pain at some point in their lives.
Neck pain, although felt in the neck, can be caused by numerous other spinal problems. Neck pain may arise due to muscular tightness in either the neck and upper back, or pinching of the nerves exiting from the vertebrae which make up the neck (cervical vertebrae). Joint disruption (facet syndrome) in the neck creates pain as is the case with joint disruption in the upper back.
The head is supported by the lower neck and upper back, and it is these areas that commonly cause neck pain. The top three joints in the neck allow for most movement of your neck and head. The lower joints in the neck and those of the upper back create a supportive structure for your head to sit on. If this support system is affected adversely, then the muscles and joint in the area will tighten, leading to neck pain.
Neck pain may also arise from many other physical and emotional health problems.
What causes back pain?
Many things can trigger neck pain. These include:
- Trauma or injury
- Worry and stress
- Falling asleep in an awkward position
- Prolonged faulty posture such as sitting at a computer and driving
- Age related wear and tear of the joints (osteoarthritis)
- Other forms of arthritis
- Birth defects
- Problems with the disc between the vertebra which may or may not press on a nerve leaving the spine.
- On some rare occasions neck pain may have a more serious cause which be assessed for on an examination.
What does neck pain feel like?
- General pain felt as a 'dull ache' or 'catching pain' located in the neck area, as well as stiffness.
- The pain may radiate down to the shoulder or between the shoulder blades.
- It may also radiate out into the arm, the hand or up into the head, causing a one-sided or double-sided headache.
- The muscles in the neck are tense, sore and feel hard to the touch.
- Acute pain can give rise to abnormal neck posture in which the head is suddenly forced to turn to one side. This condition is known as torticollis.
- The pain at the base of the skull may be accompanied by a feeling of weakness in the shoulders and arms.
- There may be a prickly or tingling sensation in the arms and fingers.
How does the doctor or chiropractitioner make a diagnosis?
In most cases, a neck problem can be diagnosed by carrying out a thorough examination that may include all or some of the following:
- Testing the movement of the neck
- Testing for trapped nerves
- Examination of the muscles
- Examination of the movement of the joints of the spine, neck and hands
- X-rays, scans or blood tests may be necessary to make a precise diagnosis.
How is neck pain treated?
For short-term problems, manual treatment such as chiropractic care and pain-relieving medicine are recommended.
With longer-term pain (i.e. three months or more) there's the following choice of treatment:
- Chiropractic treatment
- Intensive muscle training
- Exercise therapy, advice on posture and the use of a supportive pillow
- Acupuncture provides relief for significant numbers of people with chronic neck and shoulder pain.
What can you do yourself?
- Stay as active as possible. Try to go to work and keep up your normal everyday activities – bed rest isn't necessary.
- If you're given a neck-collar, try not to use this for more than one or two days. Avoid driving if you're unable to turn your head quickly.
- Remember that neck pain is rarely caused by a serious illness but should not be ruled out if you have any concern report this to your Chiropractor or GP.
- If you have had pains in the neck or arms for a longer period, it's a good idea to contact you Chiropractor or GP.
- Also, the following symptoms may indicate a more serious underlying problem than simple mechanical neck pain and require that you seek further advice from your GP: Co-existing illness, such as unexplained weight loss, sudden loss of appetite, fever, generally feeling unwell. The pain simply continues to get steadily worse despite treatment. If one or both of your arms become affected, e.g. persistent numbness, weakness or clumsiness. Or if similar symptoms arise in the feet. Presence of a rash that doesn't fade under a glass tumbler along with feeling unwell and the presence of a severe headache. This could be classed as a medical emergency.
What medication is given?
- Painkillers taken on a short term basis such as Paracetamol are often sufficient alone.
- Medicine used in the treatment of mild muscle pain includes non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These are generally effective in those who can tolerate them. But they may cause side-effects in patients with a past medical history of indigestion or asthma and be unsuitable for certain patients with kidney impairment, heart failure and high blood pressure.
- Consult your doctor or pharmacist if you think this might apply to you.
- Stronger painkillers such as codeine may be used if NSAIDs are not working well or are unsuitable. Sometimes a muscle relaxant such as diazepam may be prescribed on a short term basis of up to 1 to 2 weeks depending on progress.
Can exercise therapy help?
People with weak neck muscles are more prone to neck problems, and in such cases an exercise programme to strengthen the neck is a good idea. This will be tailored to your individual needs.