The Ultimate Guide to Neck Pain and Its Causes
Neck pain is a common issue that many people suffer from day after day. Experts believe at least seven out of ten people endure some form of neck pain throughout their lifetime. Like many other types of body aches and pains, the level of pain can vary from one person to the next. The cause of your neck pain may also be very different from several other patients your doctor sees. That’s because there are so many causes for neck pain from basic injuries to underlying diseases and disorders.
Table of Contents
- The Top Causes of Physical Neck Pain
- The Top Causes of Neck Pain Related to Illness
- Polymyalgia Rheumatica
- Cervical Spondylosis
- Throat infection
- Septic Discitis
- Other Conditions that Cause Neck Pain to Occur
- General Treatment for Neck Pain
The Top Causes for Neck Pain
Neck pain can range from mild to severe, and while some individuals may be able to relieve the pain by taking over the counter pain medication, others may not receive any relief from this type of treatment. If you suffer from neck pain, you need to seek medical attention from a professional as soon as possible. You could be dealing with a serious issue such as cervical disc degeneration, muscle strains, or nerve compression.
Neck pain can usually be broken down into two categories physical pain related, or pain related to illness.
Top Causes of Physical Neck Pain
Physical neck pain can be a result of several different issues. An individual may experience severe neck pain due to a recent accident or injury, or a muscle strain due to wear and tear over the years or a muscle sprain. Physical neck pain is often preventable and can be treated with over the counter pain medication in most cases. Here are a few examples of the most common types of physical neck pain.
Neck Muscle Strain
Muscle strains in the neck are another common cause of pain. Commonly known as whiplash, the cause of neck muscle strains usually involve car accidents. But they can also occur due to any impact or blow that causes your head to jerk forward or backward. The sudden motion can tear or stretch the muscles and tendons located in your neck. Straining of the neck muscles can also be a result of overuse and poor posture.
The levator scapulae muscle is located to the side and behind the neck. When an individual has a neck muscle strain or a stiff neck, it is usually due to injury to this muscle. The levator scapulae also connects to one of the components of the shoulder. This muscle’s primary function is to elevate the scapula. This is a bone found behind the shoulder and connects the humerus to the collarbone.
Another muscle in the neck area that often endures strains and overuse is the trapezius or trapezoid. This large surface muscle extends from the occipital bone to the lower thoracic spine longitudinally, and laterally from the spine to the scapula. The muscle helps move the scapula and provides support for the arm. The trapezius may contain trigger points that can cause pain in your arm or upper back. These trigger points can also contribute to headaches.
Symptoms of Neck Muscle Strains
The symptoms of neck muscle strains or whiplash include,
- Pain, decreased range of motion, tightness or stiffness in the neck that cause the muscles to feel knotted or hard.
- Pain when you move your head from side to side or from front to back.
- Pain and stiffness when moving your head to look over your shoulder
- Tenderness in the neck muscles
- Headaches that occur at the base of the skull and move up to the forehead
There are effective medical and non-medical treatments for neck muscle strains
Treatment for Neck Muscle Strains
- Ice your neck for 15 minutes every 3 to 4 hours.
- Take NSAIDS or other painkillers such as Ibuprofen.
- Use a neck brace or collar temporarily.
- Apply moist heat to your neck 2 to 3 days after icing it first.
- Massage therapy can be useful if you have trigger point issues.
Are Neck Muscle Strains the same as Neck Sprains?
Neck strains can often be confused with neck sprains. While they are similar, there are some differences between the two. Neck strains are caused by damage to the neck’s muscles or tendons, which are bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones. A neck sprain, however, is caused by the tearing of ligaments, which are the tissues that connect our bones to each other.
Nerve compression occurs when a nerve located in the neck is irritated or compressed at the point where it branches away from the spinal cord. This is also known as cervical radiculopathy or more commonly as a pinched nerve. A pinched nerve can cause pain that radiates from the neck to the shoulder. It can cause muscle weakness and numbness to occur in the arm or hand.
Pinched nerves are caused by general wear and tear of the nerves connected to the spine over the years. Other conditions such as sudden injuries or arthritis can also cause this type of pain to occur. If nerve compression is caused by an injury, it usually results in a herniated disc.
The Symptoms of Nerve Compression Pain
The symptoms for pinched nerves or nerve compression pain include:
- Tingling or the feeling or pins and needles in the hands or fingers
- Weakness in the muscles of the shoulders, hands or arms
- A loss of feeling or sensation
Treatment for Nerve Compression Pain
- Successful treatment for nerve compression pain can include
- NSAIDs or other anti-inflammatory drugs
- Oral corticosteroids that can help reduce swelling and pain
- Cervical devices such as the NeckStretch
- Steroid injections
- Physical therapy
The Top Causes of Neck Pain Related to Illness
Neck pain related to illness can be caused by several underlying health issues. These can include arthritis, fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease, and cervical spondylosis to name a few. These conditions are usually not preventable and develop due to age or genetics. Some health conditions that cause neck pain are treatable with therapy or medication while others may require more serious treatment solutions such as surgery.
Here are some of the most common cause of neck pain related to illness.
Degeneration that leads to neck pain is often referred to as degenerative disease or degenerative disc disease.
Degenerative disc disease can cause pain in several parts of the body, including the neck and back areas. It occurs when there are changes in the discs of the spine. While the changes may be natural, they can sometimes cause people to experience pain. The spinal discs work like shock absorbers between the vertebrae of the spine They help the back to remain flexible so you can bend or twist as needed.
As we get older, or if an injury or other condition occurs, the discs can experience wear and tear. They may start to break down and not work as well or cause extreme pain to occur.
Cervical degenerative disc disease is another form of degeneration. This disease is one of the leading causes of neck pain and it develops when one or several of the discs in the cervical spine begin to break down due to general wear and tear.
What Causes Disc Degeneration?
The discs in our spine feature a tough outer wall and a soft inner core. Over the years, these discs go through changes that can often lead to some type of degenerative disc disease. These changes include drying out or cracking.
When we are born, the discs in our spines are made up of water, and over the years, they start to lose water and become thin. When the discs flatten, they cannot absorb shocks as well as before. The loss of water also means there is less cushion or padding in between the vertebrae, which can cause pain.
The discs of the spine can crack due to stress from everyday movements or injuries. This can lead to small tears in the outer walls of the discs which is where several nerves are found. The tears located near the nerves can cause severe pain to occur.
If the walls of the discs happen to break down, the soft inner core may push through the cracks. The disc will either bulge or slip out of place. This is known has a slipped disc or herniated disc.
The movement of the discs and exposure of nerves can also lead to various conditions such as pinched nerves. Disc degeneration has also been known to cause cervical fractures due to the vertebrae losing protection from the discs after they wear down.
In the late stages of spinal degeneration, bone spurs may form which can lead to a condition known as spinal stenosis. Once the bone spurs form, the size of the spinal canal starts to shrink. The spurs then press on the spinal cord and nerve roots. This pressure can cause pain, tingling, and numbness to occur in the arms, hands and legs. This condition is also referred to as cervical myelopathy.
The Symptoms of Degenerative Disc DiseaseWhile there are several signs and symptoms associated with degenerative disc disease, it is important to remember that this disorder can be present without any symptoms at all.
- Some individuals may notice a loss in flexibility. They may have bone spurs to occur which cause pinched nerves that leads to pain or weakness in the neck or spine.
- Those who have degenerative discs may also experience:
- Pain in the legs, thighs, and buttocks. This pain worsens when standing.
- A pins and needles feeling that causes a reduced sensation of touch.
- It is also common to experience muscle spasms, nerve injury, stiffness, and even a physical deformity due to disc degeneration.
Treatment for Degenerative Disc DiseaseTreatment for degenerative disc disease includes self-care, medication and physical therapy.
- Self-care for degenerative disc disease can include physical exercise, use of a heating pad and cervical devices such as the NeckStretch
- Medication taken for this type of neck pain includes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
- You can also try medical procedures such as epidural steroid injections administered by your doctor.
Also known as PMR, polymyalgia rheumatica is an inflammatory disorder that causes muscle pain and stiffness to occur in the shoulders and hips. Sometimes this condition occurs along with temporal arteritis, which is a more serious condition which causing inflammation of the linings of the arteries.
Symptoms for PMR include aching of the shoulders, neck and hips.
Treatment for this condition includes a low-dose oral corticosteroid prescribed by your rheumatologist or your primary care provider.
Cervical spondylosis is a term used to describe the wear and tear of the discs located in the cervical spine.
Symptoms can include stiffness and pain in the neck, pain in the shoulders, a grinding sensation when turning the neck, headache, muscle spasms and the inability twist or bend the neck.
Treatment for cervical spondylosis includes self-care using ice packs and warm compresses, physical therapy, and taking medications such as NSAIDs, narcotics, steroids or muscle relaxants.
Torticollis is a rare condition that causes the neck muscles to contract. This results in the head turning to one side. This condition is sometimes inherited and is often seen soon after birth. It can resolve on its own or with treatment from a professional. The most common type of torticollis causes the individual’s chin to pull to their shoulder.
Symptoms include a limited range of head motion, headaches and neck pain. People may also experience pain in the muscles of their neck or back. Additional symptoms may include muscle spasms, physical deformity and stiffness.
Treatment for torticollis includes stretching exercises, massage, and taking neurotoxins.
A throat infection or strep throat can often be the cause of severe neck pain. Also known as streptococcal sore throat, this infection of the throat and tonsils is caused by Streptococcal bacteria.
Symptoms of a throat infection include a sore throat, chills, fever and swollen lymph nodes in the neck.
Treatment for strep throat includes taking antibiotics and getting plenty of rest.
Fibromyalgia, also known as fibrositis causes widespread muscle pain and tenderness throughout the body. This condition is often paired with fatigue, loss of memory, poor sleep and mood changes.
The symptoms of fibromyalgia include pain in the muscles, abdomen, back or neck. The pain can be chronic, diffuse, sharp or severe, and it often occurs at night. It can cause gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, constipation and gas. Fibromyalgia can cause fatigue, leave you feeling tired or malaise.
Treatment for Fibromyalgia includes self-care with physical exercise, stress management and relaxation techniques. Therapies including chiropractic treatment, massage and acupuncture. And medication such as SSRIs, NSAIDs and nerve pain medication.
Tuberculosis, also known as TB is a serious infectious bacterial disease that affects the lungs. The bacteria that causes TB is spread in the air when the infected individual coughs or sneezes.
Most people infected with TB don’t show any symptoms at first. When they do occur, it usually includes a cough, weight loss, night sweats and a fever. They will also experience pain in the chest, a loss of muscle strength and swollen lymph nodes which can sometimes cause pain and swelling in the neck.
Treatment for tuberculosis includes taking antibiotics, and seeing an infectious disease doctor or pulmonologist.
Osteomyelitis, also known as a bone infection, causes inflammation of the bone caused by infection. It often occurs in the legs, arm or spine. Infections can reach the bones through the bloodstream or by spreading from nearby tissue.
Common symptoms of osteomyelitis include pain, fever, and chills. Pain often occurs in the bones or hip area, while the entire body can experience chills, feelings of fatigue, malaise, fever or night sweats. Redness or ulcers may develop on the skin and swelling is also common.
Treatment for osteomyelitis includes various procedures including surgery to remove infected portions of the bone that have died, and taking strong antibiotics for at least six weeks.
Septic Discitis is a common cause of back and neck pain. Discitis is an infection that occurs in the intervertebral disc space.
Inflammation develops between the discs of the spine which leads to changes in your posture, stiffness, difficulty with regular mobility, fever, abdominal pain and discomfort.
Discitis can lead to severe consequences including an epidural abscess or sepsis. It has also been known to resolve completely on its own in young children. It can be diagnosed by MRIs, tissue analysis, blood tests, or bone scans.
Treatment for this condition includes bed rest, changing your daily activities and wearing a back brace or other form of supportive equipment.
Meningitis is a condition that can cause severe headaches and a stiff neck. It causes inflammation of the brain and spinal cord membranes and the primary cause is usually a viral infection, but it can also be bacterial or fungal.
The symptoms of meningitis include headaches, fever and a stiff neck. Pain can occur in the muscles of the back or neck. An individual with meningitis may experience fever, chills, fatigue, lethargy, loss of appetite, malaise or shivering.
They may also experience gastrointestinal issues like nausea or vomiting. Their skin will also have a blotchy or red rash.
Additional symptoms of meningitis that are common include irritability, sensitivity to light, confusion, fear of loud sounds, sleepiness, sluggishness, increased heart rate, and fast breathing.
Treatment for meningitis includes antibiotics, hospitalization and oxygen therapy, and seeing an infectious disease doctor or neurologist if needed.
Also known as joint inflammation, arthritis can affect the entire body, including the neck and shoulders. It causes pain and stiffness to occur in the muscles and joints. There are many different types of arthritis that exist, and each one has a different causes including general wear and tear due to age, infections and underlying diseases.
Symptoms of arthritis include pain, swelling reduced range of motion and stiffness. The affected person may also experience fatigue or malaise, joint tenderness, redness or a stiff neck.
Treatment for arthritis includes taking over-the-counter medications such as NSAIDs or ibuprofen, self-care such as increased physical exercise and using a heating pad, losing weight, trying stretching exercises, massages or hydrotherapy.
Other Conditions that Cause Neck Pain to Occur
There are several conditions that can cause neck pain to occur, some you may not immediately think about when considering your neck pain causes.
Neck pain can often lead to a headache, usually one that starts at the base of the skull and radiates to the forehead, also known as tension headaches. This type of headache is caused by neck muscle strains. But there are other neck issues that can cause you experience different types of headaches.
There are several factors that can lead to a stiff neck, neck pain and headaches. Tears or splits in the cervical discs can result in shooting pains in your head, neck or mid-spine. Degenerative cervical disc disease can also result in inflammation in the neck and headaches that occur at the back of the head.
Migraines have been linked to neck pain but they may not always be the cause. While a stiff neck may be a symptom of migraines, it can also be a sign of a more serious condition such as a cervical spine disorder.
Treatment for tension headaches and migraines associated with neck pain include taking anti-inflammatory drugs such as naproxen and ibuprofen. If over-the-counter treatment doesn’t subside the pain, your doctor may need to prescribe something stronger.
General Treatment for Neck PainNeck pain can vary from mild to severe and the most effective treatment options for your neck pain will mainly depend on the cause of your pain. Here are a few general treatment options that can help relieve practically any type of neck pain. If you still experience severe pain, muscle stiffness and soreness in your neck and shoulders after trying these treatment options, you should consult with your physician for additional care.
- Pain relievers
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
- Heating pads
- Stretching the neck
- Practicing good posture
- Posture support devices
- Neck exercises
Do You Suffer from Neck Pain Due to Bulging or Herniated Discs?
Bulging or herniated discs caused by issues such as degenerative disc disease can cause severe neck pain. This pain can often cause us to miss out on doing the things that we enjoy or completing tasks that need to be done. Along with medication and physical therapy, there is another solution available to help relieve the pain and soreness associated with this type of neck pain. This product is The NeckStretch Cervical Traction.
What is the NeckStretch Cervical Traction?
The NeckStretch Cervical Traction is an innovative device that helps relieve and heal neck and shoulder pain caused by bulging or herniated discs. It can also relieve pain associated with cervical muscle spasms, muscle strains and arthritis.
This product is designed for use by both men and women. It adjust to any size to provide the ideal fit. The product which resembles a stack of travel pillows is manufactured from soft fabric that inflates in seconds to fully support your neck and cervical spine. It is recommended that you use this product for 30 minutes, two to three times per day for best results.
Preventing Neck Pain to Live a Happier and Healthier LifeWhile some forms of neck pain may not be preventable, there are some things you can do to decrease the amount of wear and tear on your neck and shoulder muscles.
Neck pain typically occurs due to worn down muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Taking the time to improve your posture while you are sitting or standing, trying out a new pillow to support your neck at night, or using a headset if you spend a lot of time on the phone are just a few things you can do to help decrease the ongoing strain on your neck muscles and the cervical spine. Taking these preventative measures are a good way to help eliminate many of the common neck pain issues that are mentioned in this list.