Neck discomfort is a very common phenomenon especially in modern society where we spend countless hours in postures that strain our necks. Activities such as spending too much time sitting in front of a computer or looking down at a smart phone, tablet or other device are just a few of the common causes of neck dysfunction.
Topping the list of most common causes of neck pain is muscle strain or sprain to a soft tissue in the neck. Sleeping in a weird position, sitting with a bad neck posture for a period of time, a sudden force through the neck (such as whiplash or flinging your head awkwardly) and/or lifting a heavy object incorrectly are just a few of the ways that one can strain or sprain their neck. These types of neck injuries are best treated conservatively by gentle stretches and movements in addition to care provided by a registered massage therapist, physiotherapist or chiropractor.
Neck pain can also be a result of degenerative changes in the neck such as arthritis or disc lesions. Sometimes these conditions can be a bit more stubborn but they do resolve with time and treatment. Degenerative changes are the wear and tear that develops over time and they are a natural phenomenon of aging. It’s like the wrinkles we get inside of our bodies. Of course, these changes can progress more quickly for some individuals due to genetics and also if your neck has endured a lot of stress and strain throughout the years. Physiotherapy, Massage therapy, Acupuncture and Chiropractic treatments are very effective at resolving the pain associated with degenerative changes. These treatments will focus on helping to restore mobility in the neck joints and tight muscles in combination with work on strengthening of the muscles that support the neck in a good posture.
Sometimes neck pain can refer down the arm and into the hand. This can happen because the dysfunction in the neck is causing extra pressure on the nerves that communicate to the arm and hand. Once the pressure is relieved, the arm pain will be reduced. In many cases the pressure on the nerve can the result of a bulging or herniated disc in the neck. This type of injury can also be managed by physiotherapy, acupuncture or massage but in some rare circumstances may require surgical attention. Be patient with your treatment and don’t rush to surgical interventions if it is not necessary. Treatment for this type of injury can take months to resolve. In the meantime, talk to your physician or sports medicine doctor about safe and effective medications that can help with you with the pain and discomfort.
Neck pain can also refer into the head causing cervicogenic headaches. These can be quite debilitating but treatment focusing on neck joint and muscle mobility can help immensely. Your physiotherapist and massage therapist will definitely help to resolve this discomfort. More importantly, reducing your stress, poor postures and staying regular with a stretching regimen will prevent this phenomenon from recurring. Prevention is definitely key.
There are a few more serious causes for neck pain that require immediate medical attention. These pathologies include:
- Fracture to the neck bones
- Infection (TB, meningitis)
- Dissection or aneurysm of the major artery of the neck (vertebral artery)
Look out for the following warning signs/symptoms that may be indicative of more serious pathology.
- Severe night pain, night sweats, unexplained weight change, fevers
- Blunt trauma to the neck
- Severely limited range of motion in multiple directions
- Extremely intense, severe neck pain
- Weakness, numbness/tingling in both arms
- Dizziness, drop attacks, double vision, trouble speaking or trouble swallowing
- History of TB, HIV, cancer or inflammatory arthritis
- Rash developing
If you are concerned that you may have a more serious condition that is causing your neck pain then it is recommended that you seek immediate medical intervention.
For all other causes of neck pain, it is advisable to visit a skilled and knowledgeable physiotherapist, massage therapist or chiropractor. They will be able to assess you and determine an individualized treatment plan. A good practitioner will be able to explain to you what is going on in your neck and provide you with the steps required to resolve your neck discomfort. They will set realistic goals and expectations for you so that you can ensure that you are on track and responding to the treatment well.
Rebalance Sports Medicine in downtown Toronto has practitioners that are experienced in the treatment of neck issues. All of our practitioners use a combination of manual (hands on therapy) with education and prescriptive exercise. We work as a team so that your symptoms resolve faster. Contact us today to book your initial assessment and get on the road to recovery today!
Written By: Giuliano Calleri, RMT