Neck pain affects 10% of the world’s population each year. Although neck pain may be severe, most individuals improve within one to two weeks, and the vast majority in eight to 12 weeks. Neck pain may occur slightly more frequently in women than in men.
- The neck begins in the upper torso and ends at the base of the skull. It is one of the most flexible areas of the spine and consists of vertebrae, seven shock-absorbing discs, muscles, and ligaments.
The common cause of neck pain is muscle strain or tension. Muscle strains are usually related to sustained physical activity for prolonged periods of time.
- Bad posture can cause misalignment of the neck, head, and spine. Everyday activities such as bending over a desk for hours, having poor posture while reading, using a computer monitor that is too high or too low, sleeping in an uncomfortable position, etc. causes neck pain.
- Because the neck is so flexible and supports the head, it is extremely vulnerable to injury. The most frequent injuries involve the soft tissues – muscles and ligaments. Whiplash is probably the most common traumatic injury to the neck region.
- Rheumatoid arthritis can destroy joints in the neck and cause severe stiffness and pain. Osteoarthritis is inflammation of the joints caused by wear and tear. This condition can be caused by injuries, but everyone experiences some degree of osteoarthritis as they age. It is characterized by stiffness and limited range of motion.
Neck pain is usually associated with dull aching. Other symptoms related to some form of neck pain include: numbness, stiffness, tingling, tenderness, sharp shooting pain, difficulty swallowing, dizziness, and gland swelling. In some cases, there is shoulder pain or back pain in addition to neck pain.
- The pain and stiffness of whiplash generally develops 24 to 48 hours after injury. Many symptoms of neck pain can be prevented, decreased, or even eliminated through proper stretching, strengthening, and alignment of the cervical spine. Keep your head centered over your spine and do not stay in any single position too long.
- Much evidence suggests that low-impact aerobic exercise such as swimming, walking, and stationary bicycling may be helpful in decreasing neck pain.
- Stretch your neck and upper body every day, especially before and after exercise.
- The regular use of safety belts in motor vehicles can help to prevent or minimize neck injury.
- Be sure to wear a backpack correctly, with both arms through the shoulder loops.
- Do not cradle the phone between the shoulder and the neck.
- Use good posture, especially if you sit at a desk all day. Keep your back supported. Adjust your computer to eye level. If you work at a computer, stretch your neck about every hour.
- Avoid sleeping on your stomach. This position puts stress on your neck. Make sure your pillow is supporting your head and neck. The correct pillow should keep your spine straight and your neck in a “neutral” position and not at an angle – either too high or too low.
About 10% of the time, neck pain is associated with illness. Seek immediate medical help if you have a fever, headache, and your neck is so stiff that you cannot touch your chin to your chest. This may be meningitis.
Sources: NIH, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, MedicineNet, American Physical Therapy Association, Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine & Athletic Trauma, American College of Rheumatology, and Washington and Shady GroveAdventistHospitals. For additional information, consult your physician.