Neck Pain: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

What is Neck Pain?

Because of how astonishingly complex your neck area is, the causes of neck pain can vary substantially person to person. From the vertebrae and discs, to joint capsules, ligaments, tendons, and soft tissue…all working together to ideally help you live an active, agile lifestyle…or just move your head around without pain, inflammation, or stiffness. Any abnormalities, or perhaps even underlying conditions (from neck injury to incoming heart attack) connected to cervical discs could cause neck pain. This is why it’s essential to get checked out.

What are Common Symptoms of a Neck Pain?

Intense heat at the back of the neck, or in your head-stabilizer muscles that run along the side; pinching; sharp shooting pain; stiffness or lack of mobility/range of motion; throbbing; referred pain to the arm or perhaps areas of the face like the jaw; swelling; muscle-based pain and more.

What Causes Neck Pain?

There are far too many causes to get into here, that’s for sure. The most common causes that we see in our chiropractic clinics revolve around neck injuries like whiplash and work accidents, arthritic conditions, herniations/bone spurs, degenerative disc issues, and in rare cases things like abscesses, infections, or meningitis.  Wondering if it’s hereditary? Family history is relevant, of course, as is your own medical history, lifestyle (too sedentary, too much screen time, etc.), working conditions, and fitness level.

How to Get Rid of Neck Pain?

Yes, sometimes neck pain and discomfort can be completely erased from your life for good. However, there are plenty of conditions (especially age-related) that may become ongoing parts of your life. The sooner you get yourself checked out, get your condition diagnosed, and begin neck pain treatment…the better! Our chiropractors, chiropractic massage therapists, and rehabilitation therapy specialists are well-versed in how to relieve neck pain in non-invasive ways. Better Health has been helping Alaskans with neck pain since 1998!

When to Worry about Neck Pain?

It’s extremely common to be unsure about when to see a neck pain chiropractor, or get a massage specifically to address neck pain. In all honesty, typically neck pain isn’t a sign of something serious, but it could be. So if you experience neck pain for more than 6 weeks to a couple months, or it’s severe and not improving…get checked out! Neck pain has the potential to be a serious red flag when combined with other symptoms like migraines, unique connected pains, fevers, vertigo, and so forth.

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Exercises for Neck Pain

It’s hard to type out directions for exercises to address neck pain. Video is far better, so you can see the exercises and what good form looks like. Remember, ideally neck exercises shouldn’t directly cause or exacerbate pain. At Better Health we educate our clients and show them these exercises in our clinics, but for now take a look at the five following exercises being performed in this video – How to Alleviate Neck Pain and Tension

  1. Static Back
  2. Static Back Extension
  3. Static Wall
  4. Sitting Floor
  5. Frog

Stretches for Neck Pain

Again, we’d rather not attempt to write out how to effectively use neck stretches to relieve pain. Our chiropractic massage therapists and rehabilitation therapists show people how to perform these at home all the time, but for now here’s a video from Doctor Jo called Neck Pain Stretches & Exercises. Once you get the core stretches down, and how long to hold them and move your neck gracefully, it’s easy to perform them at work, on the bus or place, etc.

How to Sleep with Neck Pain?

For back-sleepers, use a rounded ergonomic or feather-based pillow that isn’t too high and more naturally conforms to the shape of your neck. The idea is to help your neck avoid flexing during sleep which can reduce morning stiffness. For side-sleepers, your goal’s to keep your spine as straight as is comfortable. And in general, sorry stomach-sleepers, it’s just not an ideal position and it’s tough on your spine!

Common Conditions of the Cervical Spine

The cervical spine starts at the base of the skull. Seven bones or vertebrae make up the cervical spine with eight pairs of cervical nerves. The individual cervical vertebrae are called C1, C2, C3, C4, C5, C6 and C7. The cervical nerves are also abbreviated C1 through C8. The cervical bones are smaller in size when compared to other vertebrae of the back. The purpose of the cervical spine is to protect the spinal cord, support the skull and enable multiple head movements such as rotating, bending the neck side to side and bending the head forward and backward.

Ligaments, tendons and muscles help to support and stabilize the cervical spine. Ligaments work to prevent excessive movement of the vertebrae that could result in serious injury. Muscles also help to provide balance and stability and enable movement. Muscles contract and relax in response to nerve impulses originating in the brain. There are different types of muscles: flexors (forward motion), lateral flexors (side to side), rotators and extensors (backward motion).

Nerve impulses travel to and from the brain through the spinal cord to a specific location by way of the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The PNS is the complex system of nerves that branch off from the spinal nerve roots. These nerves travel outside of the spinal canal or spinal cord into the organs, arms, legs, fingers – throughout the entire body.

Injury or mild trauma to the cervical spine can cause a serious or life-threatening medical emergency that will send you to a hospital or a neck pain clinic. Pain, numbness, weakness and tingling are symptoms that may develop when one or more spinal nerves are injured, irritated or stretched. The cervical nerves control many bodily functions and sensory activities. The C1 and C2 nerves help control the head and neck muscles, C3 your diaphragm or the muscle that helps you breath, C4 the muscles of your upper body, C5 arm flexors, C6 wrist extensors, C7 your triceps muscle and C8 helps control the muscles of your hands.

Cervical Radiculopathy

Both disc herniations and cerical stenosis can lead to a condition in which the spinal nerve root in the neck is irritated and/or compressed. Nerve irritation may cause sensory and/or motor abnormalities called neurologic deficit. In addition to neck pain, pain, tingling and numbness in an arm or hand are examples of a sensory abnormality. Weakness and reflex loss are examples of a motor abnormality. Cervical radiculopathy may cause symptoms to appear in the neck, shoulders, arms, hands and fingers.

An MRI or myelography and CT scan may follow a physical examination and neurological evaluation. These tests help the spine specialist determine where the radiculopathy is located and if the patient’s symptoms correlate to the image studies. Depending on the cause of the cervical radiculopathy, the spine specialist may first recommend non-surgical treatment. Of course, not all patients are alike and some patients may require surgery.

Cervical Spinal Stenosis

Cervical stenosis is when the canal where the cord runs, or the hole where the nerve exits the vertebral column, starts to reduce in size. Disc bulges and herniations are one cause of cervical stenosis. Arthritis in the joints of the spine can lead to stenosis as well. The narrowing of the spinal canal itself does not usually cause any symptoms. It is when inflammation of the nerves occurs at the level of increased pressure that patients begin to experience problems requiring neck pain treatment. Cervical spinal stenosis may cause pain, weakness or numbness in the shoulders, arms and legs; hand clumsiness and gait and balance disturbances can also occur. There are a number of ways that neck pain clinics can treat stenosis without surgery. These include:

  • Chiropractic Care – Chiropractic care treatments help to manipulate the spine to restore normal spinal movements
  • Rehabilitative Therapy, including a prescribed exercise program to help stabilize the spine, build endurance and increase flexibility.
  • Medications, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce swelling and pain, and analgesics to relieve pain.
  • Corticosteroid injections can help reduce swelling and treat acute pain that radiates. This pain relief may only be temporary, and patients are usually not advised to get more than 2-3 injections per 6-month period.