What is neck or cervical spine pain?
Neck pain can come from several different parts of the neck, including the muscles, cervical spine bones or joints, discs, or nerves. Causes of neck pain include prolonged poor postures or neck muscle strain, whiplash injury, old age associated cervical spine arthritis, spinal disc problems, or a pinched nerve.
Whiplash is one type of neck injury that can occur during a trauma such as a car collision or fall in which your head suddenly moves backwards then forwards. This extreme of motion can stretch neck muscles beyond their usual function and be associated with neck pain.
Where does it hurt? What can you not do?
Neck pain is usually localized to the back of the neck. The pain can sometimes also include the back of the head with headaches or include the upper shoulder and back muscles. The pain may be continuous or intermittent. Typically it is best to avoid activities that worsen the neck pain, which might include turning your head all the way one direction, prolonged poor postures, or jarring exercises.
When to seek Immediate Medical Attention
The neck pain may require more urgent medical attention if it is associated with new bowel or bladder problems, sudden onset of weakness, abnormal or loss of feeling in the arms or legs, or is associated with a trauma or a fall. Also be sure to see a doctor if you have a history of cancer, have neck pain that wakes you from sleeping, or pain that is associated with fevers or unexplained weight loss.
What can you do?
You can try applying an ice or heat pack to the painful muscles or take over-the-counter pain relievers on an as needed basis. Try to be aware of the neck postures and positions that worsen the pain and avoid them.
What can we do to help you?
Your doctor might order a cervical spine x-ray, MRI, or other imaging, if you had trauma, other concerning symptoms, or if the neck pain is not improving with conservative treatments. Not all causes of neck pain require imaging. If the pain persists, pain medications and physical therapy may be helpful. Physical therapy may include teaching you how to stretch and strengthen the neck muscles and scapular muscles (muscles of the shoulder blade), improve neck range of motion, and improve posture and workstation ergonomics.