Neck pain (or cervicalgia) is a common problem, with two-thirds of the population having neck pain at some point in their lives.
Neck pain, although felt in the neck, can be caused by numerous other spinal problems. Neck pain may arise due to muscular tightness in both the neck and upper back, or pinching of the nerves emanating from the cervical vertebrae. Joint disruption in the neck creates pain, as does joint disruption in the upper back.
The head is supported by the lower neck and upper back, and it is these areas that commonly cause neck pain. The top three joints in the neck allow for most movement of the neck and head. The lower joints in the neck and those of the upper back create a supportive structure for the head to sit on. If this support system is affected adversely, then the muscles in the area will tighten, leading to neck pain.
Major and severe causes of neck pain (roughly in order of severity) include:
- • Carotid artery dissection
- • Head and neck cancer
- • Spinal disc herniation
- • Spondylosis
- • Spinal stenosis
- Stress – physical and emotional stresses
- Referred pain – mostly from upper back problems
- Over-use – muscular strain is one of the most common causes
- Minor injuries and falls – car accidents, sporting events and day to day injuries that are really minor.
- Herniated disc
- Pinched nerve
The more common and lesser neck pain causes include:
Treatment of neck pain depends on the cause. For the vast majority of people, neck pain can be treated conservatively. Recommendations which help alleviate symptoms include applying heat or cold. Other common treatments could include medication, body mechanics training, ergonomic reform, and physical therapy.
- Conservative treatment
Exercise plus joint mobilization and/or joint manipulation (spinal adjustment) has been found to be beneficial in both acute and chronic mechanical neck disorders. Both cervical manipulation and cervical mobilisation produce similar immediate-, and short-term changes; no long-term data are available.Thoracic manipulation may also improve pain and function.
Analgesics such as acetaminophen or NSAIDs are recommended for pain. Muscle are often prescribed and are known to be effective. However, one study showed that one muscle relaxant called cyclobenzaprine was not effective for treatment of acute cervical strain (as opposed to neck pain from other etiologies or chronic neck pain).
Surgery is usually not indicated for mechanical causes of neck pain. If neck pain is the result of instability, cancer, or other disease process surgery may be necessary. Surgery is usually not indicated for "pinched nerves" or herniated discs unless there is spinal cord compression or pain and disability have been protracted for many months.
Neck pain affects about 330 million people globally as of 2010 (4.9% of the population).It is more common in women (5.7%) than men (3.9%). It is less common than low back pain.
About one-half of episodes resolve within one year. About 10% of cases become chronic.