Neck is the region that lies beneath your face and above the chest. It encloses many vital organs including windpipe or trachea and food pipe or esophagus. Neck contains several muscles and tendons that make it possible for you to turn your head to look back. Neck is vulnerable to strain due to extensive range of movement. Neck is not a stable organ and hence even small injury or strain can affect its normal function. Neck is the most vulnerable organ of the body and hence cutting of small blood vessel in the neck may lead to death.
Neck strain does not always cause serious injury to its organs and seldom causes fracture of bones inside. However, neck strain can damage the underlying muscles and tissues causing moderate to severe pain. Any injury to the tissue can cause considerable strain to the tissues, nerves and ligaments inside. Trauma to the neck can cause mild tears to the underlying ligaments of cervical spine. Neck strain or injury needs prompt medical examination and treatment.
Neck Pain Symptoms
- First sign of neck injury is reduced motion of neck and considerable pain.
- Swelling of the affected region of neck and redness can be seen. Inflammation of neck does not happen overnight and is a gradual process.
- In some cases pain may not be present on the first day if the underlying muscles are injured and from the second day it can cause considerable pain and reduced movement.
- The individual may not be able to perform routine activities as before when neck is injured.
- In case of severe injury it can cause pinched nerve leading to serious signs like dizziness, nausea, numbness and tingling sensation.
- Stiffness of the neck can occur and pain may spread to the lower back region.
Neck Pain Causes
Several factors can cause neck injury and strain.
1. Accidents – Automobile accidents can cause indirect trauma to the neck when the head is bent in excess either backward or forward. Such extension of head portion is described as whiplash in common terms. Due to sudden compression and pressure muscles and tissues of the neck can get strained. When an individual met with an accident while driving a car his/her head bends forward and backward in excess causing severe impact to the underlying muscles. Both front impact and rear impact can damage the tissues and nerves inside.
2. Working Position – People whose job involves working with laptops or computers all through the day are highly vulnerable to back pain and neck strain. The person may not be sitting in the right posture and he/she would strain to see the monitor continuously. It is very much necessary for them to take break at regular intervals. Work from home option for many people has added more strain and injury in the present scenario.In addition to abnormal working posture, sleeping in wrong/awkward position can cause neck strain.
3. Pinched Nerve – Pinched nerve condition can occur anywhere in the body but largely it affects the legs and hands. Pinched nerve is a condition in which excess of pressure is put on the nerve by the surrounding tissues and muscles. A herniated disk of spinal cord can put pressure on the nerve endings causing pain in your legs. Similarly it can occur in the wrist causing severe pain in the fingers. In rare cases pinched nerve can occur in the nerves of the neck causing severe pain and other symptoms like headache, dizziness and tingling feeling. Pinched nerve can be caused due to repeated stress of working condition, arthritis and injury.
4. Cervical Problems – Vertigo can cause neck pain and headaches. Cervicogenic dizziness can cause constant neck pain and sometimes it may cause neck injury. Several kinds of cervical problems can spill over affecting nor only the spine but other parts of the body like neck and head.
5. Migraine – Migraine is a kind of intense head pain that causes throbbing pain on some part of the head. It can cause blind spots, flashes, dizziness, nausea and significant pain on the head and neck region. Migraine attacks can occur anytime and can become chronic problem. Neck pain precedes an attack of migraine episode for many people.
6. Meningitis – Swelling of brain tissue can cause meningitis a severe form of infection. This condition can cause symptoms including nausea, vomiting, neck pain, neck stiffness and fever.
7. Barre Lieou Syndrome – This is a rare condition that occurs due to instability of vertebral column affecting the nerve cells of the neck region. This is also known as cervicocranial syndrome since the cervical nerves cause this problem. Some of the signs of BL syndrome include vertigo, neck pain, nausea, facial pain, muscle weakness and congestion.
8. Neck pain can occur due to vigorous chewing of hard meat also.
You can consult any neurosurgeon or ENT specialist for problems related with neck pain or injury. The doctor would complete physical examination after listening to the symptoms. Intensity of neck pain would be determined and based on that he may order for testing procedure.
Pain on the neck is of many types. Dull pain occurs when underlying muscles are injured. Sharp throbbing pain develops on the neck if nerve roots are damaged. Pinched nerve can cause burning pain. Bone damage can involve deep dull pain. In rare cases bone fracture may occur in the neck.
Before making any analysis, the doctor would consider several factors like age, sex, patient’s history, daily routine and level of activities. The doctor would gently press the neck region for identifying the problem inside. He may order for imaging tests like X-ray, CT scan or MRI scanning.
Neck Pain Treatment
Treatment for neck pain and injury differs on the intensity of the problem. Your doctor would first examine the condition before devising a suitable plan for treating neck pain. In most of the cases, neck injury would heal on its own within few days without requiring any treatment. Taking complete rest and applying hot/cold compression would provide relief from pain.
If the pain is accompanied with other serious symptoms like stiffness of neck or dizziness you can consult the doctor immediately. If the pain does not reduce even after 3-4 days of home treatment, you can always check your doctor.
For mild to moderate kinds of neck strain giving physical therapy can provide relief. Alternatively you can also consult a registered chiropractor in your area. Suitable exercises can provide relief from muscle strain in the neck. Therapist would gently massage the neck region for releasing the pressure caused by pinched nerve or any other muscle injury. Many cases of whiplash or dizziness caused by migraine can be treated with physical therapy.
NSAID’s or similar drugs like Tylenol can provide symptomatic relief from swelling and pain. OTC medications like Ibuprofen or Motrin can be taken even without a prescription for getting quick relief from neck pain. But remember you should not take these drugs for more than 5 days without consulting your doctor.
For treating severe neck pain or injury, your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids like prednisone or similar drugs. These medications are given mostly along with other painkillers like Ibuprofen.
Traction is the method used for keeping the broken bones in still (straight) condition. Traction also helps in reducing pressure built on the spine region and tendons of neck. This method also heals injured portion of the neck giving room for quick recovery. Neck traction or cervical traction is the best method for healing injuries of muscles and ligaments and also the pinched nerve condition.
Several devices like air neck traction equipments, air pillows and posture pumps help in relieving the pressure built in the neck quickly.
- Taking rest from daily activities can give relief from dull aching pain on the neck. Firstly you need to identify the cause of pain. Any topical analgesic at home can give quick relief from neck pain and discomfort.
- Apply cold compression on the affected site by wrapping some ice cubes on a towel and placing it on the neck for few minutes. Pain caused by muscle spasm responds well for this cold/hot therapy.
- OTC medications like Ibuprofen or Tylenol can be effective in reducing pain.
- Wearing a cervical collar is useful for managing chronic neck pain.
- Do not indulge in straining your head and neck portion when you are having pain, which may make conditions worse.
- You can reduce the automobile accidents by wearing seatbelts properly.
- Don’t drive when you are under the influence of alcohol. Seek help from someone to drive you home safely.
- If you are above 55 years, do not attempt to turn your head quickly and make swift movements of your neck.
- One should not bend the head forward/backward beyond the limit which may result in compression or pinched nerve.
Finally, people whose job involves using computer/laptops most of the time, should take regular breaks and practice stretching exercises daily to prevent back pain and neck strain.