Managing Neck Pain and Stiffness

Neck pain is a common musculoskeletal issue that is associated with increasingly high healthcare costs and job absences each year.

Individuals who experience the following symptoms may be experiencing chronic neck pain:

  • Frequent headaches
  • A reduced ability to turn the head
  • Muscle spasms or tightness in the neck
  • Pain that worsens when the head is held in one position for extended periods 

In many cases, once neck issues arise, it increases the risk of suffering from long-term problems. Most people who require treatment for ongoing neck pain report that their symptoms may have persisted for weeks or months. Although there are several reasons why this form of musculoskeletal damage may develop, the most common causes of neck pain include: 

  • Muscle strains - due to poor posture or overuse    
  • Worn joint tissue - due to age-related wear and tear of joint tissue in the neck
  • Nerve compression (squeezing) - due to disc herniation or bone spurs that irritate nerves in the neck
  • Injuries - due to sudden movements in sports, a car accident or blunt trauma from a hard fall when the neck is forcefully and quickly moved beyond its normal range
  • Diseases - due to conditions such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, or meningitis

It may not always be evident, but the neck promotes a variety of movements. The neck houses the cervical spine, which is the portion of the spinal column near the base of the skull and consists of the top seven vertebrae of the spinal column. Damage to muscles, ligaments, or other tissue in this region may lead to decreased range of motion and significant pain. The cervical spine consists of seven bones connected by bony joints that can easily become irritated, inflamed, or damaged. If any of the bony joints become fractured or dislocated due to blunt trauma, severe neck pain may occur immediately. Furthermore, a serious neck injury (e.g., whiplash) can lead to soreness, stiffness, and pain, inflammation, and mobility problems. 

Poor posture is one of the commonest causes of neck pain. Incorrect posture can, in fact, cause chronic pain. The curve of the spine directly affects the health of the neck as well as other parts of the body. Sitting or standing for long periods of time with the neck bent causes chronic strain that may present in the form of neck pain. In this day and age poor neck posture is now more of a factor due to working on a computer as hours can go by like minutes when focused on a task. As well, we now have a tendency to have our heads bent down for extended periods of time while on electronic devices and hunched over our smartphones.

Sleeping in an awkward position can cause us to wake up with a stiff neck. Reading or watching television in bed for prolonged periods of time  in a position that puts the neck in prolonged flexion should be avoided, especially when there is a tendency to fall asleep while in that position.

You should make a conscious effort to keep a straight and good posture. When sitting for many hours at work, make it a habit to periodically get up and walk around, setting an alarm can be a helpful reminder to take a break and do some neck stretches. While working with a computer, it helps to sit at an adjustable desk so that the screen can be placed at a level that does not require bending the neck. With more of us working from home, a proper work station is an investment in your neck health and adjustable desks are now more readily available to assist with proper ergonomics.

Aging also affects neck health and can cause pain and stiffness. As we age, the cervical discs can degenerate, this is known as spondylosis, or osteoarthritis of the neck. Another common issue that is associated with neck pain is called stenosis, where the spinal canal is narrowed or tunnels through which the nerves branching off the spinal column in the neck are compromised due to decreased space. This can narrow the space between the vertebrae and adds stress to your joints. When a disc protrudes, as from a trauma or injury, it may add pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots. Rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia are also possible causes of neck pain.

Persistent neck pain or stiffness, often necessitates a consultation with a Physical or Occupational Therapist for proper treatment. Research shows that people who are struggling with chronic neck problems usually experience improvement when they receive Physical or Occupational Therapy or full recovery in some cases.

If you are suffering from neck pain that is reducing your quality of life, contact a licensed Physical or Occupational Therapist at Therapy Specialists Inc today. Our Physical or Occupational Therapists can offer a specialized treatment plan that can get you on the path to pain-free days. Give Therapy Specialists Inc a call to learn more about our services.

References

1. Kazeminasab S, Nejadghaderi SA, Amiri P, et al. Neck pain: Global epidemiology, trends and risk factors. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2022;23(1):26-60.

2. Uhrenholt L, Brix L, Wichmann TO, et al. Advanced magnetic resonance imaging of chronic whiplash patients: A clinical practice-based feasibility study. Chiropr Man Therap. 2022;30(1):2-30.

3. Ritchie C, Ehrlich C, Sterling M. Living with ongoing whiplash associated disorders: A qualitative study of individual perceptions and experiences. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2017;18(1):531-558.

4. Sarrami P, Armstrong E, Naylor J, et al. Factors predicting outcome in whiplash injury: A systematic meta-review of prognostic factors. J Orthop Traumatol. 2017;18(1):9-16.

5. Gustavsson C, Denison E, von Koch L, et al. Self-management of persistent neck pain: A randomized controlled trial of a multi-component group intervention in primary health care. European J Pain. 2010;14(6):e1-e11. 

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