Neck pain is a common problem. Poor posture can cause neck strain, whether you’re leaning over your computer screen or hunching at your desk. Osteoarthritis is another common cause of neck pain.
Neck pain is rarely a sign of something more serious. If your neck pain is accompanied with numbness, loss of strength or shooting pains down your arm or shoulder, you should seek medical attention.
A range of symptoms for neck pain
Neck pain can be minor and easy to ignore or severe enough to interfere with your daily activities like dressing, concentration, and sleep. Sometimes, neck pain can cause stiffness and restricted motion.
The following are common ways to classify neck pain:
- Acute. Acute pain that lasts for less than four weeks
- Chronic. Chronic pain that lasts for 3 months or more
- Subacute. Subacute pain lasts between 4 and 12 weeks.
How is neck and shoulder pain diagnosed?
- X-rays: Plain radiographs can show narrowing between the two spinal bones, tumors, arthritis-like conditions, and tumors. They also reveal narrowing in the spinal canal, narrowing of spinal canal, fractures, and instability of your spinal column.
- MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a noninvasive procedure which can reveal details of neural elements and problems with the tendons or ligaments.
Myelography/CT scanning is an alternative to MRI.
Electrodiagnostic studies (EMG and NCV) can be used to diagnose arm and neck pain, nerve conduction velocity (NCV), and numbness or tingling.
How can neck and shoulder pain be treated?
Soft tissue pain such as neck or shoulder pain can often be treated with anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen. (Aleve and Naprosyn). Tylenol (acetaminophen) and other pain relievers may be recommended. Drugs such as muscle relaxers or antidepressants may be beneficial depending on the cause of the pain. You can also use ice or moist heat to treat pain. For arthritis of the shoulder, local corticosteroid injections can be helpful. Exercises may be helpful for both shoulder and neck pain movements. Surgery may be required in cases where nerve roots or the spine are involved. Your doctor will advise you on the best treatment.
Neck Pain Prevention
Poor posture and age-related wear and tear are the main causes of neck pain. Keep your head up and over your spine to prevent neck pain. Simple changes to your daily routine can help. Try these simple changes to your daily routine:
Good posture is key. Standing and sitting properly, ensure your shoulders and ears are straight above your hips.
Regular breaks are important. Take frequent breaks if you are traveling long distances or working long hours at your computer. Get up and move around to stretch your neck, shoulders, and back.
Your computer, chair, and desk should be adjusted so the monitor is directly in front of your eyes. Your hips should be slightly higher than your knees. Your chair’s armrests should be used.
When you speak, avoid tucking your phone between your eardrums and your shoulder. Instead, use a speakerphone or headset.
Stop smoking. You are at greater risk of developing neck pain from smoking.
Do not carry heavy bags that have straps across your shoulders. This can cause strain to your neck.
Good posture is key to a restful night. Your neck and head should be in alignment with your body. A small pillow can be used under your neck. You can flatten your spine muscles by sleeping on your back and with your legs elevated on pillows.
When should you see your doctor?
Consult your doctor if symptoms last more than one week. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, consult your doctor.
- No apparent cause for severe neck pain
- There is a lump in your neck
- swollen glands
- Trouble breathing or swallowing
- Pain radiating down your arms and legs
- Inability to move your arms and hands
- Inability to touch your chest with your chin
- Bladder or bowel dysfunction
Seek medical attention immediately if your neck hurts after an accident or fall.