Sprains and strains, aches and pains — everything you need to know about neck pain

Neck pain affects most people during their life and is one of the most commonly treated injuries we see in our clinics. The neck is known as the cervical spine and this area contains the first seven vertebrae (C1, C2, C3, C4, C5, C6, C7) of the spine. It has discs, joints, nerves, blood vessels, muscles and other soft tissue. Many different things can cause neck pain, most not being a serious sign of injury.

 

So what causes neck pain?

A specific event

A specific incident refers to an injury which is caused by a certain activity or movement. It is usually the one you remember the most!

Whiplash is a sudden unexpected movement to the neck commonly associated with motor vehicle accidents or sporting collisions. The forces on your neck are not dissimilar to what you experience on a bumper car or a rollercoaster, but the unexpected nature of it is what causes the injury.

Have you ever woken up in the morning from sleeping in an awkward position with neck pain and found it extremely difficult to move your neck? This is commonly known as a ‘wry neck’ and can be caused by a strain or irritation of the muscle, joint and sometimes other structures such as the nerve or disc. People also call this a “pinched nerve” as symptoms can refer away from the neck and into the shoulder or arm. The nerve is not actually pinched but likely irritated.

Once any serious injury is ruled out, it is important to get moving gradually early within pain limits. Early movement and return to activity assists with the healing of the tissue and allows for optimal recovery.

Gradual onset and overuse

Gradual onset and overuse injuries are usually linked to those tasks we do at home or work that require repetitive movements or positions. Pain can arise if we perform these activities or positions in awkward postures.

These types of injuries are pretty common as a vast majority of us spend a significant time at home or work at a desk hunched over a screen. Sustaining an awkward position for eight hours can cause overloading on your neck and shoulder muscles/joints, causing pain.

For these types of injuries, it is important that we not only focus on making the sore tissues happier, but also work on identifying the specific cause, such as: poor desk set-up, inadequate strength for the requirements of the job/activity or poor technique performing the task.

 

Other common names for neck-related pain

Facet Joint Syndrome

The facet joint is a significant load-bearing part of the spine and there is one at each side of the vertebrae. Over an extended period of time, the joint can gradually wear down, resulting in less mobility and flexibility. This is usually pain-free, though. The area can become painful, but only due to a specific incident of trauma, repeated loading or after a sustained awkward posture. Like all other neck injuries, it is important to identify the cause, encourage gradual movement and let the tissue settle. It is also important to identify and modify the activity that caused the area to become painful in the first place!

Brachial Plexus Pain

The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that relays signals from your spinal cord to your shoulders, arms and hands. This nervous tissue is extremely strong and robust, but can be irritated through a traumatic incident, such as a tackle during sport, or a repetitive loading or sustained awkward positions, such as using a mouse at your computer. Symptoms can include changes in sensations, pins and needles, as well as pain that radiates down the arm. The pain might make you worried, but most of the time it’s nothing serious. We will just need to help the tissue settle and get it moving in a way that helps the tissue recover.

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Thoracic outlet syndrome refers to a condition caused by irritation or compression of nerves or blood vessels between your collarbone and first rib. This is usually caused by repetitive activities or sustained positions.

Symptoms include numbness or pins and needles in your arms or fingers and pain can refer into the neck and shoulders. Treatment will focus on identifying the causal factor and modifying that activity through change in technique or strengthening to allow the body to handle the demands placed upon it.

At Life Ready Physio, we’re driven not only to reduce your discomfort and pain, but also to develop a treatment management plan that identifies the cause and works towards rehabilitation and prevention.

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