Definition and Overview

Neck problems a relatively common complaint among patients, regardless of gender or age group. While most of these problems go away on their own, some can be life-threatening and thus require immediate medical attention.

The neck is made up of different structures. The bone supporting the head and connecting it to the rest of the torso is part of the cervical spine. The neck also has a strong yet sensitive network of tissues and muscles. Neck problems occur when any of these structures is affected by illness, strain, or injury.

Common neck problems include pain and stiffness, numbness, tingling sensations, clicking and grating noises when the patient moves the head, dizziness when turning the head or looking up, and neck spasms (acute wry neck or torticollis).

Neck problems can be acute or chronic. Acute neck problems are those that are experienced suddenly, usually caused by stress or injury. Chronic neck problems, on the other hand, involve pain and other symptoms lasting for more than three months and are typically caused by illnesses.

Cause of Condition

Below are the most common causes of neck problems:

  • Muscle strain is a common cause of neck pain. Overusing the muscles in the neck and keeping the head in a single, unnatural or uncomfortable position can easily strain the neck muscles.
  • Nerve compression or “pinched” nerves can also cause neck pain. This condition often involves bone spurs or herniated disks in the cervical spine that pinches the nerves found in the neck.
  • Wear-and-tear of the joints is something that comes with age. The vertebrae in the neck rub against one another painfully if the cartilage between is worn down.
  • Disease can also be a cause of neck pain, especially meningitis (which involves bacterial or viral infection of the meninges), rheumatoid arthritis (a progressive disease that causes inflammation and deformation of the joints), or localized or metastasized cancer.
  • Trauma and injury to the neck can cause pain, even if they do not cut through the skin. For example, whiplash, caused by a sudden movement of the head and neck, is a common injury sustained in the event of automobile accidents.
  • Poor posture
  • Tumors
  • Clicking or grating noises in the neck is caused by roughened surfaces of bone rubbing against each other as the patient moves his or her head.

Key Symptoms

Depending on the causes, the symptoms may include headaches or dizziness, tightness in the neck muscles, an inability to move one’s head normally, muscle spasms, and worsening pain when one holds the head in a single position for a prolonged period of time.

Most types of neck pain will lessen or completely go away after a couple of days of rest. If the pain persists and is accompanied by the symptoms described above, it is best to consult a doctor as soon as possible.

Who to See and Types of Treatment Available

Some types of neck pain can be treated using over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen or paracetamol while tensed muscles in the neck region can be treated by applying heat or using ice pack for a certain period. Some patients find relief in changing their body’s posture as they sleep; for example, choosing a different type of pillow that does not bend the neck in an unnatural position. Neck exercises can also ease some of the strain in the area.

For treatment of neck problems, the doctor typically prescribes conservative methods, such as physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication or injections, pain medication, chiropractic therapy, or acupuncture. However, chronic neck pain and serious neck problems, such as cancer, typically require surgical intervention.

References:

  • Mayo Clinic. Neck Pain
  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Neck Pain
  • National Library of Medicine. Neck Pain
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