Neck pain can present in a variety of ways. Most cases of neck pain will involve headaches, stiffness, cramping, and difficulty turning the head or bending the neck. In more severe cases, you may experience other symptoms like, dizziness, nausea, and pain or numbness radiating down the arms. Fortunately, most varieties of neck pain can be successfully managed with conservative treatment options.
Neck Pain Basics
Neck pain is extremely common. Two-thirds of the population will complain of chronic neck pain sometime during their lifetime. Many of our repetitive daily activities could be contributing to the development of neck pain. For example, acute or chronic neck strain can be a result as something as simple as poor posture while working at a computer or sleeping on your stomach with your neck turned to one side. A forceful injury such as whiplash, however, is considered a neck sprain. Both types of injury can cause muscle spasms, limited range of motion, and varying degrees of discomfort and pain.
Strain or Sprain?
Neck strains and sprains are similar in as much as they can cause severe pain and be potentially disabling. They are different, however, in terms of the soft tissue they affect.
– A neck STRAIN is an injury to a tendon or muscle caused by overuse or trauma.
– A neck SPRAIN is an injury to a ligament caused by overuse or trauma.
Whiplash (technically a hyperextension and hyperflexion injury) is a common form of SPRAIN. Muscle pain that develops from repeated cradling the phone between the ear and shoulder is an example of a STRAIN.
What are the Symptoms?
Strains and Sprains – Most cases of strain or sprain are not considered serious injury. The pain and dysfunction caused, however, can seem anything but trivial. Some of the symptoms include:
- Mild to moderate pain in neck and/or shoulder
- Difficulty in moving or rotating the head or neck
Rediculopathy (pinched nerve) – This is when a nerve root becomes compressed. Possible causes include herniated disc and/or degenerative changes that alter the anatomy of the spine affecting the nerve roots branching out from the spinal cord. Symptoms include:
- Pain that radiates to the shoulder or down the arm
- Numbness and/or tingling in the arms or hands
- Weakness with or without muscle atrophy
Myelopathy – Compression of the spinal cord itself. This can happen due to the usual wear and tear that comes with age, or sometimes through infection or disease. Myelopathy is one of the most common causes of neck pain in people over 55 in the US and worldwide. Symptoms include:
- Loss of normal coordination in the arms or hands
- Difficulty with fine motor movements (e.g. writing, buttoning)
- Difficulty grasping/holding on to objects
- Heaviness or weakness in the affected arm or hand
- Disturbances in gait/balance
Meningitis – Neck stiffness accompanied by high fever, nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light could indicate meningitis. This is a potentially serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.