“What a pain in the neck!” This phrase is uttered by countless people reacting to countless situations – but certain risk factors lead to very real and challenging neck pain. Fortunately, there are also many ways to prevent this common medical condition, says Kaliq Chang, MD, of Atlantic Spine Center.
“Most think of neck pain as a dull aching sensation,” explains Dr. Chang, an interventional pain management specialist. “But sometimes neck pain gets worse with neck movement or when we turn our heads. Other symptoms linked with some forms of neck pain include numbness, tingling, tenderness, shooting pain, pulsing pain or headaches.”
In short, neck pain, also known as cervical pain, isn’t always cut-and-dried.
What causes neck pain?
Our neck, or cervical spine, is comprised of vertebrae that stretch from the base of the skull to the upper torso. Cervical discs between the vertebrae absorb any shock between the bones, and the bones, ligaments and muscles of the neck support the head and allow for movement.
So any injury, inflammation or other abnormalities in this region can cause neck pain. But certain conditions and problems are specific risk factors, Dr. Chang says. They include:
- Poor posture
- Staying in the same position for too long
- Sleeping in a bad position
- Jerking the neck during exercise
- Neck injuries such as whiplash
- Herniated spinal disc
- Pinched nerve
- Degenerative disc disease
- Lymph node swelling in the neck due to virus
- Conditions affecting neck muscles, such as fibromyalgia
6 Tips to avoid a pain in the neck
With so many possible causes, neck pain can prove difficult to completely avoid, Dr. Chang notes. But he offers these tips to prevent it where possible:
- Exercise your neck daily to strengthen it by slowly stretching your neck in side-to-side and up-down motions.
- Avoid slouching and practice good posture.
- Avoid cradling the phone between your neck and shoulder.
- Position your computer screen at eye level and use a document holder that places your work at screen level.
- Use a special neck pillow for sleeping or use a pillow that keeps your neck straight.
- Carry weight evenly instead of on just one side of your body.
“Ultimately, the only thing we can really do to prevent neck pain is to avoid injuring the neck,” Dr. Chang says. “This means minimizing the risk of injury during sports and carrying ourselves through the day in a straight, supported fashion.”
But there’s good news, too. Since neck pain doesn’t typically signal a serious condition, it can often be relieved within a few days.
“Many of us experience stiffness or neck pain once in awhile,” Dr. Chang says. “But that ‘pain in the neck’ usually won’t last for long.”
Featured in HealthNewsDigest.com: 6 Tips for Preventing Neck Pain