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I am doing well. My neck doesn’t hurt like it used too. I appreciate your caring professional care and I’ll be back if I get bad again. I am glad you taught me exercises that help my neck feel better. Thank you.

J.J.

Denver, NC

ADVANCED PHYSICAL THERAPY

TREATS NECK PAIN RELATED CONDITIONS AND IS

CONVENIENTLY LOCATED FOR PATIENTS IN:

DENVER, MAIDEN, LINCOLNTON, STANLEY, SHERRILLS,

FORD, TERRELL, CONOVER AND CATAWBA, NORTH CAROLINA

 

Neck Pain

Photo of Neck PainNeck pain is a common problem, especially in older adults. About 50% of people older than 50 have neck pain at some time. Neck pain is pain that occurs anywhere from the bottom of your head to the top of your shoulders. The pain may spread to the upper back or arms and may cause limited neck and head movement.

The spine consists of interlocking bones (vertebrae) and discs that separate the vertebrae. The portion of the spine that runs through the neck is known as the cervical spine. Muscles and ligaments in the neck hold the cervical spine together. Injury to any of these structures may result in neck pain.

Neck pain may become long lasting (chronic) when it occurs in combination with other health conditions, such as conditions associated with increasing age. These include narrowing of the spinal canal (cervical spinal stenosis) and arthritis of the neck (cervical spondylosis). In some cases, chronic neck pain can be caused by repetitive and/ or prolonged movements, such as long hours working at a computer.

Chronic neck pain may result in increased irritability, fatigue, sleep disturbances, and poor quality of life. If treatment fails, neck pain may lead to depression, chronic pain syndrome, or drug dependence.

WHAT CAUSES NECK PAIN?

Risk factors for neck pain that you cannot control include:

• Age. People older than 50 are more likely to have breakdown (degeneration) of discs or joints, as well as bone spurs in the vertebrae of the neck (cervical spondylosis).

• Recent injury or history of injury. A common injury to the neck is whiplash caused by a car accident.

• Conditions that affect the bones and soft tissues of the neck and back, such as rheumatoid arthritis, a narrowing of the spinal canal (cervical spinal stenosis), or a severely curved spine (scoliosis).

• A history of having headaches.

Risk factors that you can control include:

• Awkward positions that put stress on the neck.

• Stress and poor posture, at home or at work.

• Heavy physical work.

• Boredom at or unhappiness with work.

• Depression.

• Smoking.

• Drug abuse.

• Poor physical condition and lack of exercise.

Most neck pain is caused by activities that result in repeated or prolonged movements of the neck's muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones, or joints. This can result in a strain (an overstretched or overused muscle), a sprain (injury to a ligament), a spasm of the neck muscles, or inflammation of the neck joints. These activities include:

• Holding your head in a forward or odd position for long periods of time while working, reading, watching TV, or talking on the telephone.

• Sleeping on a pillow that is too high or too flat or doesn't support your head, or sleeping on your stomach with your neck twisted or bent.

• Spending long periods of time resting your forehead on your upright fist or arm ("thinker's pose").

• Work or exercise that uses the upper body and arms, such as painting a ceiling or other overhead work.

Minor injuries may occur from tripping or falling a short distance or from excessive motion of the cervical spine. Severe neck injuries may occur from whiplash in a car accident, falls from significant heights, direct blows to the face or the back or top of the head, sports-related injuries.

Neck pain may be caused by or related to other medical conditions. These can include:

• Conditions associated with increasing age, such as the narrowing of the spinal canal (cervical spinal stenosis) and arthritis of the neck (cervical spondylosis).

• Illnesses such as meningitis, which causes inflammation around the tissues of the brain and spinal cord, and the flu (influenza). When neck pain is caused by flu, the neck and the rest of the body tend to ache all over, but there is no severe neck stiffness.

• Chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, or ankylosing spondylitis.

• Torticollis (wryneck). Torticollis is caused by severe muscle tightness or a shortened muscle on one side of the neck, causing the head to be tilted to one side. Torticollis is usually a symptom of another medical problem.

• Referred pain. Referred pain occurs when a problem in one place in the body causes pain in another place. For example, a problem with your jaw (temporal mandibular disorder) or your heart (such as a heart attack) can cause neck pain.

• Infection or a tumor in the neck area.

Side effects of some medications include neck pain.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

You may feel a "kink," stiffness, or severe pain in your neck. The pain may spread to your shoulders, upper back, or arms, and it may cause a headache. You may not be able to move or turn your head and neck normally. If there is pressure on a spinal nerve root, you may have pain that shoots down the arm. You may also have numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arm.

If your neck pain is long lasting (chronic), it may be difficult to cope with daily life. Common side effects of chronic pain include fatigue, depression, and anxiety.

Characteristics of neck pain include:

• Pain that occurs from the bottom of your head to the top of your shoulders. Pain may spread to the upper back or arms.

• Pain that is worse with movement.

• Limited head and neck movement. The neck may be stiff or tender.

• Headaches. These are common and may persist for months.

Nerve-related symptoms caused by pressure on the spinal nerve roots or spinal cord include:

• Numbness, tingling, or weakness in the arm or hand.

• A burning feeling when touched on the skin of the arm or hand.

• A shock like pain that extends into the arm or hand.

• Leg numbness or weakness, and loss of the ability to control urination (bladder control). This occurs when there is considerable pressure or injury to the spinal cord.

Treatment Overview

Physical therapy treatment for neck pain consists of: the use of heat, ice, ultrasound, and electrical muscle stimulation, improving neck strength, movement and flexibility with exercises, and avoiding further neck injury through education about spinal mechanics and positioning. The specific treatment may depend on whether your neck pain is caused by activities, an injury, or another medical condition.

 

Prevention

Neck pain caused by stress or muscle strain can often be prevented by using good posture, getting regular exercise, and avoiding long periods in positions that stress the neck, such as prolonged computer work or painting a ceiling.

• If neck pain is worse at the end of the day, evaluate your posture and body mechanics.

• Avoid slouching or a head-forward posture. Sit straight in your chair with your lower back supported, feet flat on the floor, and shoulders relaxed. Avoid sitting for long periods without getting up or changing positions. Take short breaks several times an hour to stretch your neck muscles.

• If you work at a computer, adjust the monitor so the top of the screen is at eye level. Use a document holder that puts your work at the same level as the screen.

• If you use the telephone a lot, consider using a headset or speakerphone. Do not cradle the phone on your shoulder.

• Adjust your car seat to a more upright position that supports your head and lower back. Make sure that you are not reaching for the steering wheel while driving. Your arms should be in a slightly flexed, comfortable position.

• Use proper lifting techniques. Lifting with your knees, not your back, can also help prevent neck pain.

• If neck pain is worse in the morning, check your pillow and sleeping posture.

• Use a pillow that keeps your neck straight, neither too high nor too flat. Special neck support pillows called cervical pillows or rolls may relieve neck stress. You can also fold a towel lengthwise into a pad that is 4 in. (10 cm) wide, wrap it around your neck, and pin it in position for good support.

• Use a pillow that doesn't force your head forward when you lie on your back and that allows you to align your nose with the center of your body when you lie on your side.

• Avoid sleeping on your stomach with your neck twisted or bent.

• If you read in bed, prop the book up so you are not using your arms to hold it up and bending your neck forward. Consider using a wedge-shaped pillow to support your arms and keep your neck in a neutral position.

• If stress is contributing to your neck pain, practice muscle relaxation exercises.

• Strengthen and protect your neck by doing neck exercises once a day.

You can also help prevent neck pain by maintaining a healthy body weight.