The neck is made up of a vertebra that extends from the skull down to the upper torso. It also has cervical discs that are designed to absorb the shock between the bones. The ligaments, muscles, and bones found in the neck support the head and allow it to move. Any injury, inflammation, or abnormalities may result in neck stiffness or pain.
Many people experience occasional neck pain or stiffness. In most cases, it can be attributed to overuse or poor posture. Other times, neck pain can also be caused by whiplash, contact sports, or injury from a fall.
Oftentimes, neck pain is not serious and won’t warrant neck pain treatment. However, if neck pain is severe, lingers for more than a week, and is accompanied by other symptoms, seeking medical attention right away is recommended.
There are different options to treat neck pain. However, the cause needs to be determined first before the best treatment can be provided. Fortunately, mild cases of neck pain will respond well to conservative treatments like exercise, pain medications, and massage. Many people who visit their chiropractors also report relief from neck pain.
Common Causes of Neck Pain
Neck stiffness or pain can be attributed to a lot of causes. Some of the most prevalent causes of neck pain include:
Muscle strain and tension
Muscle strain and tension can be due to the following behaviours and activities:
- Working in the same position for too long
- Sleeping with the neck in a bad position
- Poor posture
- Jerking the neck during exercise
Neck pain can also be one of the symptoms of a heart attack. However, oftentimes, it manifests together with other symptoms such as:
- Jaw or arm pain
- Shortness of breath
The neck can be very vulnerable to injury especially when playing sports, or during falls, and car accidents. In the aforementioned scenarios, the neck’s ligaments and muscles are forced to move outside of its normal range. If the cervical vertebrae (neck bones) are fractured, the spinal cord can also get damaged. Neck injury that occurs due to sudden jerking of the head is called whiplash.
Other likely causes of neck pain include:
Osteoporosis. In people with the condition, the bone can weaken and can result in small fractures. While this condition often manifests in the knees and hands, it can also occur in the neck.
Spinal stenosis. This condition develops when the spinal column narrows down and causes pressure on the nerve roots or spinal cord as it exits the vertebrae. This condition can also develop due to long-term inflammation caused by arthritis and other conditions.
Rheumatoid arthritis.This condition causes joint swelling, pain, and bone spurs. When this develops in the neck area, neck pain can occur.
Fibromyalgia. This condition causes muscle pain throughout the body especially in the shoulder and neck region.
Spondylosis. When the cervical discs degenerate, spondylosis can occur. This condition is also known as osteoarthritis of the neck. When spondylosis is present, the space between the vertebrae can narrow down. The condition can also add stress to the joints.
Herniated cervical disk. Also known as slipped or ruptured disk, this condition occurs when a disk protrudes due to injury or trauma and puts pressure on the nerve roots or spinal cord.
In very rare instances, neck pain and stiffness can be secondary to:
- Congenital abnormalities
- Spine cancer
When to See Your Doctor
If the neck stiffness or pain lasts for more than a week, a visit to the doctor is recommended. You should also check with your doctor right away if the neck pain is accompanied by:
- Swollen glands
- Lumps in the neck
- Pain that travels down the legs or arms
- Bowel or bladder dysfunction