5 Neck Pain Causes That Might Surprise You (And When To See A Doctor)
Many people experience neck pain at some point in their lives. From poor posture to osteoarthritis, the causes of neck pain vary considerably from person to person, but sufferers know the symptoms all too well:
- Pain that gets worse when you hold your head in one position for extended periods, perhaps when you’re driving or working at a computer.
- The inability to move your head easily and fully.
- Muscle tightness.
- Muscle spasms.
If you find yourself messaging your neck several times during the day, it could be more than daily stress and strain— don’t underestimate the role the neck plays in your overall mood and health.
A Pain in the Neck–Literally.
The neck plays a unique role in the body: it’s strong enough to support the weight of your whole head but is also very flexible. Because of this combination of features, your neck is prone to injury and painful conditions that can hinder routine activities and restrict motion.
We’re all familiar with common causes, such as whiplash caused by fender benders and car accidents, but other origins might surprise you:
- Worn-out joints. Like most other parts of the body, the joints in your neckwear down with age. When the cartilage between your bones to deteriorate, we call this “osteoarthritis,” which in your neck, causes bone spurs to form. The result affects joint motion and causes pain.
- Nerve compression. Herniated disks or bone spurs in the vertebrae of your neck can sometimes press on the nerves that branch out from your spine.
- Tech neck. Many of us are guilty of spending far too many hours hunkered down over a computer or smartphone, resulting in an aching neck and shoulders at the end of the day. There’s actually a name for this condition– the dreaded “tech neck.”
- (Seemingly) minor repeated movements. Reading in bed, an awkward position–even gritting your teeth can strain your neck muscles.
- Diseases. It’s relatively rare, but neck pain can sometimes be traced back to certain diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis, or cancer.
How To Prevent Neck Pain
Some things can’t be helped such as age-related wear-and-tear; however, there’s a lot you can do to help prevent neck pain. Small tweaks in your daily routine can be hugely helpful, including:
- Good posture. Whether you’re standing or sitting, remember to keep your spine in a straight line. Your shoulders should be directly over your hips, while your ears should always be lined up over your shoulders. In other words, stand tall–no slouching!
- Take plenty of breaks. Long hours in the office and stop-and-go traffic are an everyday reality for many working adults. Our advice: take periodic stretch breaks– get up out of your chair, move around, and stretch your neck and shoulders.
- Adjust your desk, chair, and computer. Ideally, the computer monitor (or anything else you’ll need to focus on for a long time) should stay at eye level. Optimal posture includes keeping your knees slightly lower than your hips.
- Use a phone headset or speakerphone. Fortunately, Bluetooth earpieces and headsets are mainstream, making them affordable and easy to find. But, if you don’t have that luxury when using a phone handset, never cradle it between your ear and shoulder.
- Skip the shoulder straps when carrying heavy bags. Added shoulder weight equates to excessive strain on your neck; for heavier loads, consider a suitcase with wheels instead.
- Choose your sleep position carefully. To avoid waking up with sore muscles, your head and neck should be aligned with the rest of your body. And if possible, sleep on your back with a small pillow under your neck and your thighs elevated on pillows to flatten out your spinal muscles.
When To See a Doctor
While most neck pain improves gradually with at-home treatments and prevention techniques, we recommend a visit to your primary care physician when your neck pain is:
- The result of an injury, like a car crash or fall.
- Severe enough to interfere with your daily life.
- Persists for several days in a row.
- Spreads down your arms or legs.
- Accompanied by numbness, weakness, or a tingling sensation.
Treating Your Aching Neck
While over-the-counter and prescription medications may bring temporary relief, many patients experience unpleasant side effects or limited effectiveness. Thus, the pain continues–and you feel worse from the medications.
Rather than trying to mask your symptoms temporarily, chiropractic care traces your pain back to the root of the problem. Though everyone’s pain is a bit different, chiropractic care most often involves treating the muscle, joint, and nerve in your neck using chiropractic adjustments or “cervical manipulations.” Though the name may sound intimidating, cervical manipulations place gentle pressure on your neck and spine, to loosen your stiff joints and bring immediate relief. If you’ve tried treating your neck pain at home and it’s not subsiding, make an online appointment with us or call us at (309) 233-2773, to discuss your symptoms and begin a treatment plan. Your neck–and body– will thank you.