A Pain in the Neck

Do you know how common neck pain is among adults? In a given year 15% of all adults in the United States, a better sample size than Hungary, experience neck pain that lasts at least one full day.

The neck, or cervical spine, does the important job of providing support and mobility for the head, which itself can weigh about 4.5 to 5 kilograms—the approximate weight of a medium bowling ball, and a full kilo more than the misinformation spread in the movie “Jerry Maguire”.

There are a number of common problems that cause pain in this important body part. First among them is irritation occurring along the nerve pathways in the neck, which can radiate pain into the shoulder, head, arm, and hand. Irritation of the spinal cord in the neck can also cause pain spreading into the legs and other areas below the neck.

Most instances of neck pain should go away within a few days, or sometimes weeks. Pain that persists for months, becoming constant or radiating to other parts of the body, for instance shoulder or arms, could signal an underlying medical cause that needs medical attention. In some instances, an early intervention would be preferable, when possible, for best recovery results.

Pain can usually be alleviated with self-care, such as rest, icing the area, or correcting posture. Sometimes non-surgical medical treatments are needed, such as medication or physical therapy. If non-surgical treatments do not produce a positive result, then surgical options may have to be considered.

Neck Pain Symptoms

  • Symptoms that may occur with common neck pain include tenderness, muscle spasms, and stiffness. Anything that affects the bones and tissues of the neck, including osteoarthritis, swelling of lymph nodes, muscle pulls, and nerve damage, can contribute to and be a symptom of neck pain.
  • Other symptoms associated with serious causes of neck pain include arm weakness, leg weakness, arm numbness, leg numbness, loss of bladder control, loss of bowel control, and an inability to walk. Additional symptoms that may occur with an infection of the neck include neck swelling, skin redness, fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, and swollen glands in the neck.
  • Common causes of neck pain vary from straining due to poor posture, osteoarthritis, and everyday activities, such as driving, reading, or sleeping in the wrong position.
  • If you have neck pain you may also feel a decreased ability to move your head, muscle stiffness and tightness, or neck soreness, tenderness or general discomfort. Neck pain and headaches often come on together.

Treatment for Neck Pain

  • Neck pain caused by poor posture, exertion or wear and tear can usually be treated at home, with rest, ice and/or heat compresses, massage, lifestyle and ergonomic modifications, and over-the-counter medications. Sufferers may also want to sleep on a low-profile, firm pillow. Some people find relief from neck pain by seeing a chiropractor and acupuncture.
  • Neck pain can be serious and even immobilizing if it also affects your entire body, radiating down to the shoulders, arms, or fingers, up in your head, or even into your legs and feet. You may also feel tingling and weakness in your limbs with neck pain, difficulty swallowing, and problems with walking or motor control.
  • If you have serious neck pain your doctor will begin investigation with an X-ray or CT scan. He or she may also prescribe a spinal tap, physical therapy, trigger point injections surgery, and/or prescription pain medications, including corticoids.


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