What are the root causes of Neck Pain?
Your cervical spine, or neck, is comprised of seven bones layered on top of each other with a shock-absorbing disc between each of the levels. Your neck is fairly flexible, which means it relies on muscles and ligaments for support. "Sprains" and "strains" are the end product of these tissues being stretched too hard or too far, just like how a rope frays when it is stretched beyond its limit. The term, "sprain" means that the tougher, more durable ligaments that keep your bones together have been damaged, while "strain" means that your muscles or tendons that move your neck have been partially torn.
Auto accidents and sports injuries caus most neck sprains and strains. Other less adventurous activities like reaching, pushing, pulling, moving heavy objects and falling can also trigger these problems. Most commonly, sprains and strains are not the end product of any single event but rather from repeated overuse. Tendons and ligaments generally manage small isolated stressors fairly well, but overbearing challenges lead to injury in much the same way that repeatedily bending a piece of copper wire will cause it to break. Examples of these less severe types of cervical sprain/strain injuries include bad posture, poor workstations, repetitive movements, prolonged overhead activity, sedentary lifestyles, improper sleep positions, poor bra support and obesity.
Some symptoms from a sprain/strain may begin immediately but more likely they will develop gradually. Pain can also be due to dull neck pain that becomes sharper when you move your head. Resting your neck may relieve your symptoms but often leads to stiffness, which can be quite uncomfortable. The pain is commonly centered in the back of your neck but it could also spread to your shoulders or between your shoulder blades. Tension headaches usually come with neck injuries. Be sure to tell your doctor if you have any signs of a more serious injury, including a severe or "different" headache, loss of consciousness, confusion or "fogginess", difficulty concentrating, dizziness, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, change in vision, nausea or vomiting, numbness or tingling in your arms or face, weakness or clumsiness in your arms and hands, decreased bowel or bladder control or fever.
Sprain/strain injuries usually take your normal healthy elastic tissue and replace it with less elastic "scar tissue". This process can lead to continuous pain and even arthritis. Looking for early and appropriate treatment, like the type provided in our office, is critical. Depending upon the severity of your injury, you may need to limit how much activity you do for awhile- especially those movements or activities that cause pain. Avoid heavy lifting and take frequent breaks from prolonged activity, particularly overhead activity. Following severe injuries, you can apply ice for 10-15 minutes each hour. Heat could be helpful after a few days or for more chronic types of pain. Be sure to ask your doctor for ice or heat recommendations. Some patients report partial relief from sports-creams.