Did you know that more than five million people Google "neck pain" every month? It’s one of the most common symptoms people experience, and it’s a common reason why patients come to us for medical attention. Here’s everything you need to know about that "pain in the neck."
1) Neck Pain is a Common Symptom.
Neck pain is an extremely common symptom, affecting between 10-20% of U.S. adults at any given time. That means that tens of millions of people are suffering from neck pain every day, which leads to missed work, decreased quality of life and limitations on physical activity.
2) Neck Pain Has Several Causes.
Because the neck contains several anatomical structures, the causes of neck pain depend on where the problem is originating. People can experience neck pain due to an abnormality in the spinal cord, cervical vertebrae, ligaments or cervical discs, as well as a problem with the blood vessels, muscles and nerves that run through the neck. In addition, some patients experience referred neck pain arising from a problem in the head, chest or shoulders.
The most common causes of neck pain include arthritis, whiplash and torticollis (spasms in the neck muscle, usually located on one side of the neck.)
3) Patients Should Be Aware of the “Red Flags.”
While many causes of neck pain are benign and resolve on their own within a few days, neck pain can signal a life-threatening emergency. So it’s important to know the red flags of neck pain, and seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of these.
First, any person who develops neck pain after a trauma (such as a car accident or a fall) needs to have their neck immobilized, and have imaging performed immediately to rule out a spinal cord injury or vertebral fracture, since these injuries can lead to permanent paralysis if they’re not detected and appropriately treated.
The other red flags include neck pain associated with neurologic changes, severe headache, fever, weight loss, history of cancer, difficulty swallowing or chest pain.
4) The Treatment for Neck Pain Depends on the Cause.
The good news is that there are lots of treatment options for neck pain! Several analgesics can be used, including over-the-counter or prescription medication for pain and inflammation. In cases of muscle spasms, medical providers can prescribe muscle relaxants if they deem it appropriate. Heat, massage and gentle stretching can also alleviate many cases of musculoskeletal neck pain. Patients with more complex causes of neck pain are often referred to a specialist, who can discuss treatment options depending on the patient’s diagnosis.
5) You Can Take Steps to Avoid Neck Pain.
While some cases of neck pain are unavoidable, there are multiple steps patients can take to prevent it! First, it’s important for people engaging in contact sports to wear appropriate equipment and used approved athletic techniques. Second, it’s important for all drivers and passengers to wear a seatbelt at all times. And the third step patients can take is to make sure that their computer and mouse are positioned appropriately, since poorly-designed work spaces can lead to neck strain and muscle spasms.
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