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Neck Pain

Neck pain can occur from the bottom of the head to the top of the shoulders. It may spread to the upper back or arms & may cause limitation of neck and head movements. It is common in middle age & older adults. More than 50% of people older than 50 years old have suffered neck pain.

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 (overstretched or overused muscle), sprain (injury to a ligament), spasm of the neck muscles, or inflammation of the neck joints. These activities include painting a ceiling, sleeping with your neck twisted, slouching, or staying in one position for a long period of time.

Less frequently, neck pain is caused by injury, such as whiplash that occurs in a motor vehicle accident; a fall from a ladder, infection in the neck, narrowing of the spinal canal in the neck (cervical spinal stenosis), or rheumatoid arthritis.

The symptoms include feeling of a “kink,” stiffness, or severe pain in the neck. The pain may spread to your shoulders, upper back or arms, or it may cause headache. There are difficulties in moving or turning the head and neck. Pain that shoots down the arm; numbness, tingling and weakness in the arm suggest pressure on the spinal nerve roots.

If your neck pain is long-lasting (chronic), it may be difficult to cope with daily life and subsequently lead to fatigue, depression, and anxiety.

If neck pain is acute and very severe or is persistent and does not improve after a week, it is important to evaluate the neck with X-ray, magnetic resonance image (MRI), computed tomography (CT) scan to check the neck bones, spinal discs, spinal nerve roots & the spinal cord.

Neck pain that occurs suddenly and recently (acute pain) can be relieved by reducing the pain with ice and non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs); improving neck movement and flexibility with exercises or physical therapy and avoiding further neck injury by changing activities and body mechanics, such as sitting up right or sleeping with a pillow 4 inches high. Most neck pain caused by activities goes away within 4 to 6 weeks.

Chronic neck pain is first treated the same way as acute neck pain. Medications, such as muscle relaxants; or antidepressants may be needed in addition to pain relieving drugs. Physiotherapy stress management and relaxation techniques are effective.

Surgery is rarely required to treat neck pain. It may be considered if neck pain is caused by pressure on the spinal nerve roots, a severe injury that has broken a bone in the spine (vertebra), a tumor, or a condition such as cervical spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal).

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