If you are struggling with neck pain it is important to seek out a registered qualified healthcare professional that can quickly help to give you pain relief.
Neck pain is commonly associated with tension and sedentary lifestyles or seated work environments, which can cause bad posture (e.g. working with computers for prolonged periods). Ask our osteopaths for ergonomic tips to relieve tension, as it is often the neck’s soft tissues that are to blame.
Neck Pain and Headache
It is fairly common for people to suffer with headache in association with their neck pain. Sometimes this is due to compression of a nerve which supplies the back of the eye socket (orbit) and these people complain of a “forehead” headache.
What causes a stiff neck?
- Muscular tension – this may be a primary problem with local muscles in the neck, such as a torn or strained muscle.
- Muscular spasm – often secondary to an underlying fault (e.g. joint inflammation), the brain causes local muscles in the area of injury to tighten up in order to “splint” the damaged region, allowing it time to recover.
- Ligament strain – usually traumatic in origin, sometimes ligaments get stretched which causes pain. An example of this might be a “whiplash” injury.
- Joint inflammation – we’ve all done it- woken up with a stiff neck following a poor posture overnight, or sitting at a computer for too long. If this causes the facet joints in the spine to sit too closely together, the surfaces may rub and become inflamed, resulting in pain and stiffness and usually spasm, causing neck muscle pain.
- Stress – tension itself can result in holding our postures in a “tight” manner, resulting in neck pain. Simple breathing or relaxation techniques can easily help in these cases.
- Wear and tear in joints – medically called “cervical spondylosis” occurs when joints become arthritic, resulting is some pain and stiffness. Cervical spondylosis occurs naturally with age. It does not always cause symptoms, although in some people the bone changes can cause neck stiffness.
- Trapped nerve – the nerves that exit the spinal cord in the neck may become compressed (e.g. by a bulging disc). This can cause muscle spasm, but often the pain is experienced in the arm or hand and may be accompanied by sensory changes (e.g. numbness or tingling) or some weakness. Neck pain caused by nerve entrapment is called cervical radiculopathy. It may occur after you have held your neck in an awkward position, after an unusual movement, or following the use of vibrating power tools.
- Poor posture – this can cause pressure onto certain joints and muscles resulting in them working inefficiently and lead to fatigue and pain.
- Torticollis (a twisted neck that feels painful and difficult to move) may occur from exposure to a cold draught.
Relieving neck pain
It isn’t always necessary to seek advice from an osteopath, physiotherapist or your GP. Often, it may be simple enough to ease even severe neck pain by using some easy self-help tips:
- You can try taking over the counter painkillers or anti-inflammatories, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to help relieve pain
- Try using warmth to sooth aching muscles, such as a hot water bottle or wheat bag around your neck.
- Support your neck in bed by using a use a firm specific neck pain pillow.
- Keep mobile- even if you’re in pain, maintaining as much range of pain-free motion and keeping active will help.
- You can see if ibuprofen gel being applied to your neck as an alternative to taking tablets helps. Remember not to exceed the dosage instructions that come with the medication.
- Be aware of your posture – poor posture may worsen the pain. Ask your osteopath on ergonomic advice.
- If your neck feels stiff, you could try some simple neck exercises – gently move your neck from side to the other, carefully twisting your neck from left to right as far as your pain permits- never force your neck into a painful range.
When to seek professional advice
You should book an appointment to see one of our osteopaths or your GP if your pain or stiffness does not significantly improve after a couple of days, or if you find it hard to control the pain using ordinary painkillers.
We will find you an appointment quickly and then follow our six step plan to find out the nature and cause of your pain, examine you, formulate a treatment plan, including exercise advice and follow up on how your improvement is progressing.
Usually symptoms can be successfully controlled using the methods listed above, but if your symptoms persist, in some cases we may refer you to a specialist for an MRI scan, to determine the exact cause of your neck pain.