Neck pain (cervical pain)
The cervical spine is a complex structure. It supports your head and is capable of moving your head in many directions: 90° of forward motion, 90° of backward motion, 180° side to side, and 120° of tilt to shoulder to shoulder. No other region of your spine has such freedom of movement. Neck or cervical pain can come from a number of disorders and diseases and can involve any of the tissues in the neck.
Common causes for neck pain are degenerative disc disease, neck strain, infections, neck injury, whiplash, a herniated disc, or a pinched nerve. Virus infection of the throat, lymph node swelling are also causes of neck pain. Neck pain can also come from the muscles of the neck, such as fibromyalgia and polymyalgia rheumatic or positioning of the neck while sleeping or working in awkward positions.
Symptoms of neck pain can be a dull aching that is worsened with movement of the neck or turning the head. Other symptoms can include numbness, tingling, tenderness, sharp shooting pain, fullness, difficulty swallowing, pulsations, swishing sounds in the head, dizziness or lightheadedness, and lymph node swelling. Neck pain is sometimes associated with headaches, facial pain, shoulder pain, arm numbness, or tingling. These symptoms can be caused by nerves becoming pinched in the neck, triggering upper back or lower back pain.
What's inside my neck?
Your neck includes 7 small vertebrae, intervertebral discs to absorb shock, joints, the spinal cord, 8 nerve roots, vascular elements, 32 muscles, and ligaments that surround the spinal cord and canal. Within the neck are arteries, veins, lymph nodes, thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, esophagus, larynx, and trachea. Any damage or illness to any of these systems can trigger neck pain. The nerve roots stem from the spinal cord like tree branches through the foramen in the vertebrae. Each nerve root transmits electrical nerve impulses to and from the brain, shoulders, arms, and chest. A vascular system of 4 arteries and veins runs through the neck to circulate blood between the brain and the heart. The joints, muscles, and ligaments enable movement and stabilize your head.
How can I prevent neck pain?
Neck pain can be prevented by avoiding injury to the neck. Some possible causes for neck pain include injury from contact sports, motor-vehicle accidents, bull or bronco horse riding, etc. Minimizing the risks of injury with appropriate safety equipment, neck strengthening exercises, and occasional neck bracing.
The treatments for neck pain include rest, heat or cold applications, traction, soft-collar traction, physical therapy, ultrasound, massage, manipulation, local injections of cortisone or anesthetics, topical anesthetic creams, topical pain-relief patches, muscle relaxants, analgesics, and surgical procedures. At home, you could try jacuzzi, neck exercises and stretches, and neck pillows for sleep, and hot pads can be very beneficial for relief of some forms of neck pain.
Less than 5% of neck pain patients will need surgery, and there are many options for you to try before surgery.
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