The human head weighs between 10 to 11 pounds. Our necks work to hold up a whopping 8% of our body weight. Considering the fact that keeping our heads upright is an essential bodily function, it’s easy to see how having neck problems can have a cascade of negative effects on our lives, work, and wellbeing.Neck tenderness and pain is one of the most common ailments there is. It can be mild or severe, but either way — it affects our quality of life and keeps us from doing what we need and want to do.Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about neck pain, including symptoms, causes, and treatment options.
Classifying Neck Pain
Before getting into causes and treatment options, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the neck. To hold up our heavy heads while allowing for rotation, flexion, and extension, the neck consists of bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. The bones involved are a part of the spinal column, known as the “cervical” vertebrae. There are 7 of them, labeled from top to bottom as C1 through C7. Between each vertebrae bone, there are discs of cartilage that act as a cushion.Along with these skeletomuscular parts, our necks include various blood vessels, lymph nodes, glands, and organs. Although our necks are relatively small, it’s easy to see that it’s a delicate system that can cause pain if it’s out of whack. Pain is typically classified as acute or chronic.Acute neck pain typically has a sudden onset and often occurs due to injury. Therefore, acute neck pain typically resides in a reasonable amount of time, sometimes on its own. Chronic neck pain, on the other hand, happens over time through reoccurring injury or overuse for extended periods of time.
Symptoms of Neck Tenderness and Pain
Neck tenderness and pain are symptoms in and of themselves. However, there’s a wide range of symptoms you may also experience if you’re having trouble with your neck.This includes:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Dull aching during movement and/or rest
- Limited range of motion and flexibility
- Muscle pain and/or stiffness
- Pain and tenderness in the face, neck, shoulders, throat, and/or back
- Sharp, shooting pain
- Tingling in shoulders and limbs
- Weakness in arms
One of the biggest indicators on this list is having a limited range of motion (ROM) and a lack of flexibility. ROM refers to the full movement potential of a joint, while flexibility is the ability to elongate different soft tissues like muscles and tendons.Both of these symptoms result in improper neck movement and are common in most neck problems.
Potential Causes of Neck Pain
Unfortunately, neck pain can be caused by a wide variety of things. Some are identifiable, such as injuries and conditions. Others are more general and vague.Still, any form of neck pain can be treated. Here are some of the common causes that lead to discomfort and tenderness.
Neck pain can be linked to the degeneration of bones and joints. This is what happens when you have osteoarthritis — the cartilage between bones is worn down, resulting in swelling and pain.Cervical degeneration can lead to chronic neck pain. It’s often related to fractures, inflammation, and pinched nerves as a result.
As with any body structure, overuse can take a toll on our necks. Overuse or strain happens from repetitive motions, improper posture, and carrying heavy items. It’s also related to staying in the same position throughout the day without stretching or readjusting your position.Overuse injuries often result from occupational habits like sitting at a desk too long without breaks or continually putting your neck in a weird position.
Injuring your neck is an unfortunate way to experience acute neck pain. This can happen from falling down, getting into a motor vehicle accident, or from contact sports.These injuries usually occur with a sudden jerk or movement that isn’t normal. As a result, you can get a broken bone, a herniated disc, a pinched or damaged nerve, and ligament or muscle injury.It’s important to note here that if you experience neck pain after an injury, you should seek professional help to ensure there’s no serious damage.
Various conditions may cause neck pain as well. This includes things like:
- Cervical spondylosis
- Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
- Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR)
This list is by no means definitive. Moreso, it highlights that those who experience these conditions should understand that it may be a part of their diagnosis. Additionally, the fact that conditions are a cause of neck pain indicates the importance of explaining all of your symptoms and ailments to medical professionals. That way, they can help determine if your neck pain is a localized thing or if it’s a sign of something else.
Non-specific neck pain simply refers to causes that aren’t definite. For example, you may not have gotten an injury or have an underlying condition.These types of causes include:
- Overusing computers and cell phones
- Sleeping with your neck in a weird position
Most non-specific neck pain causes are relatively simple to fix, with some guidance.
Although it’s rare, neck pain sometimes occurs due to an infection in the body. This can include things like swollen lymph nodes, tuberculosis, and meningitis. For the remainder of this article, the focus is on other types of neck pain, as this cause is uncommon. That being said, it is possible. If this is the situation you’re in, a doctor will probably want a physical examination as well as a blood test to identify what’s going on.
While some neck injuries are avoidable, such as those caused by poor posture, it’s important to note that there are risk factors surrounding neck injury.One that is difficult to avoid is riding in a motor vehicle. Even with a seatbelt on, neck injuries can happen during an accident. Still, it’s important to sit in the correct position with a seatbelt on and the headrest in the correct position.Other risk factors include contact sports and previous health conditions.
To identify the underlying cause and come up with a treatment plan, your medical professional will assess your history, symptoms and duration of symptoms, and do a physical examination.The diagnosis may require imaging, such as an x-ray or an MRI, to determine what the problem is.Treatment options vary based on the cause of neck tenderness, but here are some treatments for a variety of these issues.
In general, all treatments look towards reducing pain and returning you to normal acts of daily living.If you have a mild neck problem, a doctor may suggest that you:
- Apply hot or cold packs
- Attend physical therapy
- Get corticosteroid injections
- Reduce stress
- Take anti-inflammatory drugs
- Use special neck pillows
- Use topical anesthetics for pain relief
Even with mild pain, you should consult a doctor before trying any treatment to ensure it’s the right thing to do.
Treating Conditions that Cause Neck Pain
We discussed some of the conditions that may cause neck pain earlier. To treat neck pain in these cases, the root of the problem needs to be addressed.This may include non-surgical regenerative therapies or minimally-invasive surgery. It depends entirely upon your individual situation and what the doctor determines is the best move for treating your condition.
Surgical procedures to correct problems with bones and discs are sometimes the only solution to reducing neck pain. This option is typically assessed after all non-surgical options have failed.This could include:
- Fixing bone fractures
- Reconstruction surgery for discs
- Relieving pinched nerves by reducing pressure
- Removing parts of vertebrae to allow the spine to decompress
Rest assured, your doctor will only suggest surgery if they think it’s a necessary thing. If that’s the case, you can trust them to provide education, details on the procedure, and recovery time so that you know what to expect.
Keep In Mind
If your neck pain is persistent or painful, you should see a doctor rather than trying to fix it yourself. Although it’s strong, our necks are very fragile and require specific care.Using a neck brace or collar without instructions can actually cause more neck problems down the line. The same goes for self-guided stretches at home.All of this is to say that it’s worth making an appointment to get rid of pain rather than trying to do it yourself. This will ensure that the root of the problem is addressed and that your timeline of recovery is as speedy as possible.
Seek Professional Help
If you’re experiencing neck tenderness and pain due to an injury, it’s important to seek out medical help to ensure there’s nothing serious going on. The same goes for chronic injury — nobody should have to live their entire life suffering through pain. Contact us today so that we can help you return to optimal health as soon as possible.