If you suffer from neck pain, you’re far from alone. According to a survey from the National Centers for Health Statistics, about 15 percent of Americans will experience severe neck pain in any three-month period. That means 45 million people are suffering from neck pain at any given time. About two-thirds of the U.S. population – more than 200 million people – will experience neck pain at some point in their lifetime.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which oversees the collection of these statistics, reports that neck pain and other physical ailments are correlated by income levels. People with jobs that involve lots of bending, standing or lifting are more likely to experience neck pain than people who don’t perform those tasks regularly.
But neck pain doesn’t discriminate, and the causes of neck pain are widely varied. These issues can occur in people of all ages and professions. Shoulder and neck pain can be caused by sports or other physical activities, ranging from tennis to lawn work. Repetitive physical activities at either work or home can also be one of the leading causes of neck pain, as can remaining in the same position for too many hours at a time. Even your commute to work can cause neck issues.
What are the Symptoms of Neck Pain?
The most obvious symptom of neck issues is, of course, pain. When things hurt, that’s a clue that something isn’t right! The pain can be a constant, dull throbbing. Neck issues can also show up as sharp, sudden pains that only occur if the neck is moved a certain way.
Common symptoms of neck pain
- Muscle tightness
- Limited movement
- Muscle Spasms
Limited neck movement occurs when tight or damaged neck muscles prevent you from achieving a normal range of motion. This limited movement can have major impacts on your daily life, making it difficult to perform routine tasks, such as looking over your shoulder to check a blind spot when driving.
Sudden, involuntary contractions, or uncontrollable tightening and shaking – can also occur in the neck. These spasms are often a response to strained or overused muscles. They can also occur due to muscle weakness or pain related to an injury or disorder.
What Causes Neck Pain?
The neck is susceptible to pain or injury because it supports the weight of the head, allows significant motion, and is less protected than other regions of the body. Because of this, neck pain is extremely common and can be caused by a wide range of conditions.
Simple tasks, like carrying a purse that is too heavy, can cause temporary neck pain. A bad day may negatively affect your posture and emotional stress – two common triggers of neck pain. Several medical conditions life osteoarthritis and meningitis have neck pain as a common symptom. If you’ve recently had to slam on your breaks during your evening commute, you may experience temporary whiplash.
Common causes of neck pain
- Carrying heavy items (backpack or purse)
- Emotional stress
- Osteoarthritis (brittle bones)
- Poor posture
- Slipped disc
- TMJ disorders
- Cervical dystonia
When to see a Doctor for Neck Pain
It is important to remember that neck pain, if left untreated, can lead to problems with other parts of the body. Because the neck contains the spine and important muscles that stabilize the head, severe neck pain can translate into balance issues or headaches, an issue known in the health care sector as “referred pain.”
Whether you should see a doctor is dependent on a range of factors including:
- How long your neck has hurt
- If the pain is becoming worse
- If you have other symptoms of meningitis
If your neck has hurt for more than 3 weeks or the pain is getting worse, it may be time to schedule an appointment with a doctor. If you experience other symptoms of meningitis, it’s also time to visit a physician.
For mild to moderate neck pain, try home remedies first:
- Apply ice and then heat on the neck
- Stretching the neck
- Take ibuprofen
- A gentle neck massage
- Maintaining good posture
Diagnosis and treatment
A doctor’s goal is to eliminate the issues that are causing your pain, or to help you reduce or manage that pain. Because the severity of symptoms can vary from person to person, treatment plans vary as well. For some people, neck pain is a minor problem that can be managed with some basic exercises and physical therapy. For others, it may be a constant presence that must be alleviated with more extensive treatments.
If your neck pain continues or gets worse and you decide to make an appointment, there are a number of techniques doctors may use to treat your pain. Depending on the cause of your neck pain, treatment options include:
- Muscle relaxants
- Pain medication
- Physical therapy
- Steroid injection therapy
Surgery may be necessary in some cases, but for a full understanding of how your pain may be treated, it is important to schedule a consultation with a medical team. Your doctor will conduct a thorough evaluation that mixes hands-on exploration with tests such as CT scans and MRIs.
Typically, doctors first consider non-operative options such as physical therapy, pain medication, and injection therapies. The ultimate goal is to get your pain under control and help you go about your day-to-day life without back and neck pain.
Neck Pain in Puyallup, WA
If you are suffering from neck pain and associated issues, it is important to understand the cause of your pain to start a course of treatment. Microsurgical Spine Center offers a wide range of treatment options, including neck surgery and neck pain management, to correct or alleviate your pain. Learn more about our treatment options here. If you’re in the Seattle, Washington area, contact us or call 253-841-8939.