Common Symptoms of Neck Pain

Common causes of neck pain

Sleeping awkwardly
Prolonged postures (office workers have a higher incidence of neck pain)
Whiplash or trauma such as a fall, road traffic collisions or contact sports
Physical activity such as lifting, repetitive movements
Stress/anxiety and or depression.

Cervical spine (neck) – Muscles
Muscular complaints of the neck are predominantly related to sleeping in awkward positions and sustained static postures with or without heavy lifting and loading. It is common at night to move in your sleep and if you turn quickly the muscles in your neck tighten/spasm in response to guarding (protection). In the morning your neck will be stiff and painful however it is essential to engage in gentle movement exercises.
Posture is another common cause for muscular pains. Sustained postures can cause specific muscles to be overactive and work too hard whilst other muscles are underactive becoming weak and tight. The resulting muscle imbalance can lead to headaches, restrictions in movement and aching that generally worsens through the day causing the sensation of a ‘heavy head’.

Cervical spine (neck) – Joints
The cervical spine is composed of joints that allow your head to move forward and backwards, side to side and rotate. Joints can become stiff due to posture, pain (fear of movement), muscular spasms and or trauma such as road traffic collision. The joints in your neck are also susceptible to wear and conditions such as osteoarthritis over time. Osteoarthritis typically presents with joint stiffness, restriction in movement and pain.
Symptoms from joint stiffness present differently from muscle pains whereby the pain only lasts for a short period of time and commonly related to just one or two movements. The pain does not worsen throughout the day and can be felt as a sharp rather than a dull heavy ache.

Cervical spine (neck) – Discs
Intervertebral discs are situated between each bone in the spine (vertebra). Their purpose is for shock absorption, movement and bony stability. It is not uncommon for people between the ages of 30 and 50 to suffer from disc bulges. A disc bulge refers to part of your disc pushing or bulging out. The lower cervical spine discs are more prone to bulging due to the greater amount of movement at these levels.
Depending on the direction of the disc bulge it can irritate a nerve root that exits or enters the spine. This irritation can give you symptoms into your arm and hand. Symptoms are often described as pins and needles, electric shock type sensation, numbness, burning, heaviness, shooting pains with pain often felt in the shoulder blade. Severe neck pain can also associated with a bulging disc however it is possible for a person to have no neck pain, with only symptoms in the arm as a result of a compressed nerve. The good news is that in the majority of cases, symptoms slowly get better with time, pain relief, treatment and exercise.

Specific conditions

Osteoarthritis is common affecting spinal facet joints. The cartilage covering the joints becomes worn through normal use causing stiffness and pain. The change in the joint can lead to a build up of inflammation further causing symptoms of pain and stiffness. Symptoms are reported as being worse first thing in the morning and following a period of rest, improving with movement. You may feel and hear a clicking, grinding or crunching sensation as you move your spine which is normal and not harmful.

Degenerative disc disease
The intervertebral discs are a gel-like consistency housed in stretchy cartilage that provides shock absorption for our spines. As we age and occasionally through injury, the discs dehydrate losing size and their ability to withstand forces placed upon them. This is a very common condition which develops with age and is considered to be normal.

Whiplash is a neck injury that is caused when the head is suddenly forced forward, backward or to the side. It usually presents following a road traffic collisions however whiplash can also occur in contact sports. The symptoms of Whiplash often take several to 12 hours to develop and you may experience pain, reduced movement, muscle tension, dizziness and headaches. In the majority of cases the symptoms of whiplash improve within two to three months.

Torticollis or Wry neck
Is a condition where you neck muscles go into a spasm. The cause is unknown however it is predominantly related to posture and or sleeping awkwardly. Symptoms usually settle within a few days.

Spinal Stenosis
The solid bone canal that protects the spinal cord narrows through ageing or injury preventing nerve impulses from reaching their destination at the required speed/intensity. Narrowing is caused through extra bone growth, osteoarthritic facet joints, ligament degeneration, disc protrusions and occasionally change to the structure of the spine (spondylolisthesis, scoliosis, fracture..)

Lateral recess stenosis
A similar process to spinal stenosis however symptoms are only experienced on one side. Patients report neck pain and single arm symptoms due to narrowing of the space in the spine where an individual nerve passes.

A condition where one spinal vertebrae slips forward out of alignment narrowing the spinal canal. Can be caused by the normal ageing process, a break or fracture due to an injury or repetitive loading. Neck pain can be a factor as well as arm pain if a spinal nerve is being compressed.