Neck pain is a common complaint and is something our clinicians at Pure Physiotherapy see and treat regularly. Neck pain typically occurs following an injury or overuse owing to the neck having a large range of motion to interact with the world around us in tandem with supporting the head.
Acute neck pain describes sudden onset of discomfort which is typically linked to a specific injury/action/activity to cause it. Acute pain will often resolve in days or weeks. If your neck pain persists over 3 months, it is considered chronic, typically with periods in which symptoms improve and then worsen.
Signs & Symptoms
Pain made worse when in static positions for a long period i.e. driving, computer/desk-based work
Muscle tightness and spasms in the neck and upper back
Decreased ability to move your head
Headaches – attributed to the articulating muscles of the neck going into spasm, causing irritation of the nerves which supply the head and scalp. (for more information on different types of headaches, the common symptoms and management, please click here)
Due to the neck possessing a large range of motion and supports the weight of your head, it can be vulnerable to injuries and conditions that cause pain and restrict motion. Causes include:
Muscle strains – Repetition or overuse, such as long hours hunched over your computer or looking down at your smartphone, often triggers muscle strains. Even minor things, such as reading in bed can strain the neck muscles which can lead to a spasm.
Car collisions, workplace accidents and sporting injuries are common scenarios which can result in a whiplash injury. This common mechanism involves the head being exposed to rapid acceleration and stretch, which strains the soft tissues of the neck and upper back. (Click here for find out more about whiplash injuries)
Worn joints – Just like all joints in your body, your neck wears with age; just like how our skin wrinkles so do our joints, consider it internal wrinkles or age-related changes. Osteoarthritis (wear & tear of our bones) causes the cartilage that cushions and reduces the friction between your spinal bones to deteriorate. As this degeneration progresses, your body attempts to heal by laying down new bone which can affect joint motion and cause pain.
Nerve compression – The nerves branching out from the spinal cord which supply our head and upper limbs can become irritated when the space in which they exit from the spine narrows. This narrowing can occur from several mechanisms including wear & tear and intervertebral disc changes.
Certain diseases, such as cancer and rheumatoid arthritis can cause neck pain which may warrant further investigation. These conditions are much rarer and are typically only of concern when other causes have been ruled out.
Prevention & Treatment
Most neck pain is associated with posture which subjects the neck to more strain and age-related changes. Some simple methods the Pure Physiotherapy team recommend to help prevent and manage neck pain are:
Take frequent breaks – If you travel long distances or work long hours at your computer, get up, move around and stretch your neck and shoulders to increase your posture variation.
Adjust your desk, chair and computer to correct height – The monitor should be at eye level, knees should be slightly lower than hips. Use your chair’s armrests.
Try to stop smoking – Smoking can put you at higher risk of developing neck pain & can impact your healing ability.
Avoid carrying heavy bags with straps over your shoulder –The weight can strain your neck, especially with satchels and handbags which are worn on one shoulder. Consider using a rucksack so that the weight is evenly distributed.
Sleep in a better position – Your head and neck should be aligned with your body. Use 1 small pillow under your neck and try to fill the space between your neck and shoulder.
Ice or heat – Apply an ice pack or bag of frozen peas to your neck for 15 minutes three or more times a day. Taking a hot shower or bath can help relax strained muscles.
Stretching and Massage – Stretch your neck muscles by turning your neck gently from side to side and up & down. Rubbing the sore places in your neck can help relieve muscle spasms. Below are videos of exercises and massage techniques Pure Physiotherapy recommend.
If pain persists, physiotherapy can play an important role in helping restore full range of movement and reduce pain. At Pure Physiotherapy, our skilled and experienced clinicians will take a detail history of your neck issues and perform a thorough physical assessment to ascertain factors related to the development of your pain and identify structures which are affected.
Your Physiotherapist at Pure will possess the skills to perform hands-on manual therapy, soft tissue techniques and acupuncture (Please note – only certain clinicians are trained in acupuncture). Your therapist will also prescribe an individualised home exercise plan and self-help strategy to equip you with the ability to manage independently.
Rarely, neck pain can be a symptom of a more serious problem. Seek medical care if it is accompanied by numbness or loss of strength in your arms or hands or if you have shooting pain into your shoulder or down your arm.
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