Statistically, one in ten people has neck pain at any given time. The neck works hard, its role is to support the head, which weighs on average 5kg. Pain can range from severe, acute pain that inhibits neck movement to a persistent dull ache.
Causes of Neck Pain
While there are many causes of neck pain, in the majority of cases the cause is musculoskeletal in origin. The pain may arise from the neck region but commonly the shoulder and upper back and ribs can play a major role in causing neck pain.
Muscle spasm and tension is a common cause of pain and is often due to poor posture or repetitive strain, like working at a computer all day. More severe pain can cause a “wry neck” which can result in severe pain and limited movement of the neck and head.
The joints in the neck are very small and can be sprained by different types of injury such as whiplash from a motor vehicle accident. The head is very heavy so the neck joints and muscles have to work very hard to keep your head upright and moving, hence they can easily succumb to injury after a traumatic event like a head knock or a motor vehicle accident.
Nerve impingement can be another cause of neck pain that is associated with nerve pain and tingling in the arm and hand. Commonly this is due to either a disc injury pressing on the nerve, a bony spur from arthritis pressing on the nerve, or swelling around the nerve from joint sprains.
Arthritis can be a cause of neck pain and is commonly due to wear and tear in the neck causing generation in the intervetebral discs or joints.
Autoimmune disease can cause neck pain due to certain types of arthritis in the joints or fibromyalgia.
Symptoms of neck pain
Generally most people feel a dull ache and tension running up the back of their neck into the base of their skull, often in conjunction with tension in the upper back region. More severe pain can occur with movement of the neck causing sharp stabbing pain that inhibits most neck movements; this is termed a “wry neck” or torticollis.
Headaches may be associated with neck pain and tension and is called a “cervicogenic headache”
If there is nerve impingement there may be referred pain down an arm that could be associated with numbness and tingling in the arm or hand, and in some cases there may also be some muscle weakness.
Arthritis, especially the degenerative type will often cause aching and stiffness in the neck, especially when getting out of bed in the morning.