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Neck pain

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Neck Pain

The neck is made up of 7 vertebrae that support the skull and allow us to turn, bend, straighten and tilt our heads sideways. Spaces between the vertebrae allow the spinal cord to pass from the brain and supplies sensation and power throughout the body.

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.

You can often get a painful or stiff neck if you:

  • sleep in an awkward position
  • use a computer for a prolonged period of time
  • strain a muscle because of bad posture
  • stress or have anxiety, this can also sometimes cause tension in your neck muscles, leading to neck pain.

You may find this video helpful in understanding the common causes of neck pain:

Some common causes of neck pain are: 

  • Neck Arthritis 
  • Muscular neck pain
  • Cervicogenic headaches
  • Neck nerve pain

Generally seen in those aged over 65 years as part of the normal aging process. However the signs of normal ageing do not predict the presence of symptoms. 

Symptoms

  • Stiffness on neck movements and restriction, particularly on turning or looking upwards
  • Pain, particularly at night and difficulty finding a comfortable position
  • Difficulty looking over shoulder when driving
  • Grinding, grating or clicking noises from the neck

Many muscles attach to the neck and provide support to the head as well as enabling us to move in a variety of directions. Pain is often felt in the Trapezius muscles, particularly the upper fibres which run from the base of the head and across to the shoulder.

Symptoms

  • Generalised pain, often an aching sensation across the top of the shoulder/s
  • Often pain at end of range movements e.g. turning the head or tilting ear across to shoulder
  • Does not radiate down the arm or into the hand/fingers
  • Aggravated by prolonged positions e.g. reading

Headaches can sometimes be caused by a problem with the neck, these are called Cervicogenic headaches. This can be disc related or soft tissue. This type of headache is usually, but not always accompanied by neck pain.

Symptoms

  • Reduced range of movement of the neck or pain with movements
  • Headache significantly improves/goes away at the same time as neck pain
  • One sided or one side dominant headaches
  • Pain with pressing on the upper neck joints and/or surrounding muscles
  • Weakness in the deep neck muscles
  • Non-throbbing pain, usually begins in the neck

Nerves run from the brain throughout the body, cervical nerve roots names C1-C8 exit the level above the vertebrae named in the neck, except the last one (C8 exits below the C7 vertebra). These cervical nerves then branch out to supply muscles that enable functioning of the shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers. They also carry sensory fibres to the skin that provide us with sensation.

  • Pain in the neck and often radiating down the arm/s and into the fingers, this may also include weakness, pins and needles or numbness
  • Pain on neck movements, often worse on turning your head and tilting your head towards the side of pain
  • Often lasts up to 3 months, nerve healing timeframes are much longer than those of bones, muscles and ligaments and sensory symptoms e.g. pins and needles or numbness often persist longer

For most types of general neck pain, the advice is to carry on with your normal daily activities, keep active, and take painkillers to relieve the symptoms.

These steps may help you to manage your pain:

  • take regular doses of paracetamol, ibuprofen, or a combination of the two, to control pain – ibuprofen gel can be rubbed on to your neck as an alternative to taking tablets (always follow the instructions that come with the medication)
  • try holding a hot water bottle or heat pack to your neck - this can help reduce the pain and any muscle spasms, although some people find cold packs offer better relief
  • avoid wearing a neck collar – there’s no evidence to suggest wearing a neck collar will help to heal your neck, and it’s generally better to keep your neck mobile
  • avoid driving if you find it difficult to turn your head - this may prevent you being able to view traffic
  • if your neck is stiff or twisted, try some neck exercises see the video link below

You should see your GP if:

  • the pain or stiffness doesn’t improve after a few days or weeks
  • you can’t control the pain using ordinary painkillers
  • you’re worried your neck pain could have a more serious cause

Your GP will examine your neck and ask some questions to help identify any underlying condition. They may also prescribe a stronger painkiller, such as codeine, to take with your usual over-the-counter painkillers.

If you’ve had neck pain or stiffness for a month or more, your GP may be able to refer you to a Physiotherapist. 

If you have had trauma to your head/neck or symptoms such as dizziness, problems speaking or swallowing, drop attacks, nausea, visual disturbance or numbness  and loosing balance than contact your GP or call 111.

If you want to know more pls click Neck pain (Neck pain - NHS (www.nhs.uk))

We have collated some useful resources below.

  1. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy - Neck pain

Warm up exercises

Healthy spinal exercise

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