What is neck pain caused by?
Neck Pain can be due to or caused by, any of the structures in the neck. These structures include vertebrae (7 in the neck) discs, ligaments, nerves, and joints. Like any machine, the body is made up of a number of different component parts, which have different jobs to do. So, each of these component parts can get damaged or injured and may then cause symptoms, of pain.
Tension and muscle imbalance is a common cause of pain.
Muscles are essentially pulleys, that work in teams to stabilise the body (core stability) and allow movement (muscle chains).
Muscles must balance each other and work together. The front and back, side to side. Pain is usually therefore due to the muscles of the neck trying to straighten you up. They also have to work hard against gravity and whatever is pulling you forward. So, this can be made worse by stress, a large bust, or breathing problems such as asthma.
If there is a problem with the balance of the pulley, to loosen a tight muscle at the back of your neck, you need to loosen the front first. The muscles are just trying to pull you upright. There is nothing behind you pushing you forward! Loosening the back neck muscles first will just need to be done over and over again!
Acute neck pain
Acute neck pain or a stiff neck is a common problem which usually gets better after a few days or weeks. It’s rarely a sign of anything serious. Neck pain may be severe and lead to stiffness or pain when you try to move your neck.
Neck pain is more common if you:
- sleep in an awkward position
- use a computer for a prolonged period of time
- strain a muscle because of bad posture
- Anxiety and stress can also sometimes cause tension in your neck muscles, leading to neck pain or making it worse.
Causes of acute neck pain
Some people may suddenly wake up one morning and find in severe pain in their neck.The neck may be twisted to one side they are unable to move. This is known as acute neck pain or torticollis. It is due to an injury to the neck muscles causing them to spasm.
The exact cause is unknown, but there is usually an acute localised muscle spasm and soft tissue inflammation.
Acute Neck Pain is by definition short-lived. It can take up to a week to get
better, but it usually only lasts 24 to 48 hours.
Wear and tear in the neck
Sometimes neck pain is caused by the “wear and tear” that occurs to the bones and joints in your neck. This is a type of arthritis called cervical spondylosis.
Cervical spondylosis also occurs naturally with age. It doesn’t always cause symptoms, although, in some people, the boney changes can cause neck stiffness.
The nerves of the neck can also be squashed or irritated. This can cause pain that radiates from the arms, pins and needles, and numbness in the hands and legs.
Most cases improve with treatment in a few weeks.Treatment can include, manual therapy, while stretching exercises, heat, and medication, can also help.
Whiplash is a neck injury caused by a sudden movement of the head forwards, backward or sideways.
It often occurs after a sudden impact such as a road traffic accident. The vigorous movement of the head overstretches and damages the tendons and ligaments in the neck.
As well as neck pain and stiffness, whiplash can cause:
- tenderness in the neck muscles
- reduced and painful neck movements
- Jaw Pain
More serious causes
Neck pain may have a more serious cause if it’s persistent and getting progressively worse, or you have additional symptoms, such as:
- lack of coordination (for example, finding fiddly tasks increasingly difficult)
- problems walking
- loss of bladder or bowel control
- high temperature (fever)
- unexplained weight loss
Serious causes are more likely, if you’ve recently had a significant injury – for example, a car accident or a fall – or you have a history of cancer or conditions that weaken your immune system, such as HIV.
See your GP if you’re concerned.
Neck pain caused by an irritated nerve is known as cervical radiculopathy. It’s usually caused by one of the discs between the bones of the upper spine (vertebrae) bulging and the gel inside pushing outwards on to a nearby nerve.
The condition is more common in older people because your spinal discs start to lose their water content as you get older, making them less flexible and more likely to split.
Pain may be controlled with painkillers and by following the advice below, although surgery may be recommended for some people.
Chronic neck pain
Chronic neck pain is also called Cervical spondylosis. Cervical Spondylosis is the medical term for neck pain caused by age-related ‘wear and tear’ to bones and joints.
The most common symptoms of cervical spondylosis are neck pain, stiffness, and headaches. More rarely, it can cause trapped nerves in the neck, Causing to:
- pain radiating from the arms.
- pins and needles in the arms and legs
- loss of feeling in your hands and legs
- loss of co-ordination and difficulty walking
However, many people with cervical spondylosis experience no significant or noticeable symptoms.
What causes chronic neck pain?
As people get older, the effects of aging and everyday use causes wear to the joints that make up the spine of the neck. As a result, as we age, the tissues of our spine can become less hydrated. This means that the discs of the spine can shrink slightly, and the ligaments can become less elastic and therefore stiffen. Consequently, there is less general movement.
The body constantly repairs and changes itself during the course of our lives. Cervical spondylosis occurs when the balance of “wear and repair” is lost. This, therefore, can lead to pain and stiffness in the neck.
Who gets chronic neck pain?
Cervical spondylosis is a very common condition. It’s estimated that 9 out of 10 adults will have some degree of cervical spondylosis that can show up on x-ray, by the time they are 60 years old. Many will have no symptoms at all.
It is not known if there is a gender difference in Chronic Neck Pain, but it is associated with some conditions.
- Stress and depression
- Some manual jobs
- headaches and TMJ
- previous Injury or trauma
- Upper back and shoulder conditions