Neck pain is a very common complaint, its incidence ranges between 10.4% and 21.3% of the population per year. Although neck pain can be extremely painful at the time, we know from experience that in most cases, symptoms improve quickly and similar to mechanical low back pain, there is rarely a serious underlying cause.
Neck pain can be caused by a variety of factors and reasons. For example, sleeping awkwardly at night, poor posture (office workers have a higher incidence of neck pain), a pinched nerve, an injury such as whiplash or fall, physical activity such as lifting, repetitive movements, job role, physical conditioning, stress/anxiety and or depression. No matter what the cause of your neck pain we know it can have a significant impact on your life, both physically and emotionally.
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 in the neck 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, aching that generally worsens through the day and a feeling of a ‘heavy head’.
Cervical spine – 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 pain rather than a dull heavy ache.
Cervical spine – Discs
Discs are situated in between each vertebra in the neck. 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.
If you have neck pain or concerns about your cervical spine and symptoms are not improving, I would suggest being assessed by one of the experienced physiotherapists here at Fay Pedler Clinic.