Pain in Neck Muscles

An Overview

Neck pain is a common complaint. Neck muscles can be strained from poor posture whether it’s leaning over your computer or hunching over your workbench. Osteoarthritis also is a common cause of neck pain.
Rarely, neck pain can be a symptom of a more serious problem. Seek medical care if your neck pain 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.
Many people experience neck pain or stiffness occasionally. In many cases, it’s due to poor posture or overuse. Sometimes, neck pain is caused by injury from a fall, contact sports, or whiplash.
Most of the time, neck pain isn’t a serious condition and can be relieved within a few days.
But in some cases, neck pain can indicate serious injury or illness and require a doctor’s care

Symptoms for Neckpain

• Pain that’s often worsened by holding your head in one place for long periods, such as when driving or working at a computer
• Muscle tightness and spasms
• Decreased ability to move your head
• Headache

Causes of Neck pain

Your neck is flexible and supports the weight of your head, so it can be vulnerable to injuries and conditions that cause pain and restrict motion. Neck pain causes include:

Muscle strains. Overuse, such as too many hours hunched over your computer or smartphone, often triggers muscle strains. Even minor things, such as reading in bed or gritting your teeth, can strain neck muscles.

Worn joints. Just like the other joints in your body, your neck joints tend to wear down with age. Osteoarthritis causes the cushions (cartilage) between your bones (vertebrae) to deteriorate. Your body then forms bone spurs that affect joint motion and cause pain.

Muscle tension. This is usually due to activities and behaviors such as:
• poor posture
• working at a desk for too long without changing position
• sleeping with your neck in a bad position
• jerking your neck during exercise

Injury. The neck is particularly vulnerable to injury, especially in falls, car accidents, and sports, where the muscles and ligaments of the neck are forced to move outside of their normal range. Rear-end auto collisions often result in whiplash injury, which occurs when the head is jerked backward and then forward, straining the soft tissues of the neck.

Nerve compression. Herniated disks or bone spurs in the vertebrae of your neck can press on the nerves branching out from the spinal cord.

Diseases. Certain diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis or cancer, can cause neck pain.

Meningitis. Meningitis is an inflammation of the thin tissue that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. In people who have meningitis, a fever and a headache often occur with a stiff neck. Meningitis can be fatal and is a medical emergency.

Osteoporosis weakens bones and can lead to small fractures. This condition often happens in hands or knees, but it can also occur in the neck.
Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes muscle pain throughout the body, especially in the neck and shoulder region.

Diagnosis

Even if it doesn’t seem related, you should also let your doctor know about any recent injuries or accidents you’ve had.
• blood tests
• X-rays
• CT scans
• MRI scans
• electromyography, which allows your doctor to check the health of your muscles and the nerves that control your muscles
• lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
• Electromyography (EMG). If your doctor suspects your neck pain might be related to a pinched nerve, he or she might suggest an EMG. It involves inserting fine needles through your skin into a muscle and performing tests to measure the speed of nerve conduction to determine whether specific nerves are functioning properly.
• Blood tests. Blood tests can sometimes provide evidence of inflammatory or infectious conditions that might be causing or contributing to your neck pain.

Treatment

• You doctor will perform a physical exam and take your complete medical history. Be prepared to tell your doctor about the specifics of your symptoms. You should also let them know about all prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications and supplements you’ve been taking.
• Physical therapy. A physical therapist can teach you correct posture, alignment and neck-strengthening exercises, and can use heat, ice, electrical stimulation and other measures to help ease your pain and prevent a recurrence.
• Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). Electrodes placed on your skin near the painful areas deliver tiny electrical impulses that may relieve pain.
• Traction. Traction uses weights, pulleys or an air bladder to gently stretch your neck. This therapy, under supervision of a medical professional and physical therapist, may provide relief of some neck pain, especially pain related to nerve root irritation.
• Steroid injections. Numbing medications, such as lidocaine, also can be injected to relieve your neck pain.
• Surgery. Rarely needed for neck pain, surgery might be an option for relieving nerve root or spinal cord compression.
• Conservative treatment. Thoracic manipulation may also improve pain and function. Low level laser therapy has been shown to reduce pain immediately after treatment in acute neck pain and up to 22 weeks after completion of treatment in patients that experience chronic neck pain.

Prevention

• The best way to prevent neck pain is to keep your spine flexible and your muscles strong. You can do this with regular exercise — 30 minutes on most days. Make sure you take plenty of breaks throughout the day to stretch.
• It’s important to develop good posture especially when you’re sitting, at work or driving. Try not to slouch or to poke your chin out. A supportive pillow is also important to prevent neck pain

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