Doctors estimate that seven out of 10 people will be troubled by neck pain at some point in their lives. It’s important to clearly pinpoint the cause of your neck pain so that your healthcare practitioner can correctly diagnose whether it’s something to be concerned about.
Here, according to Harvard Medical School, are the seven most common cases of neck pain:
- Muscle pain. Stress or overexertion can cause and aching or sore neck. The neck muscles may develop hard knots that are tender to the touch, sometimes called trigger points. Applying heat or getting a massage may help relieve the symptoms.
- Muscle spasm. You may experience a sudden, powerful tightening of neck muscles and even turning your head can hurt. When you wake up with a painful, stiff neck, that’s likely a muscle spasm. It’s commonly due to a muscle injury but may be a response to a spinal disc or nerve problem. Gentle try to massage the area, apply an anti-inflammatory gel or take a hot shower. If the pain persists, seek medical help.
- Headaches. Tension headaches can spread to the back of the neck and usually feel dull or aching. Applying cold and heat compresses to the area. Another trick is to place two tennis balls on either side of the neck, just under the back of the head and gently massage from side to side.
- Nerve pain. Sharp, severe pain that feels like pins and needles may be coming from the roots of the spinal nerves. The pain may shoot down the arm or even to the hand. Try to rest and take an anti-inflammatory medication. If needed, see your doctor who may prescribe physical therapy.
- Facet joint pain. Sharp, deep or aching pain may indicate that the facet joints of the vertebrae have deteriorated due to aging or arthritis. The pain can radiate to the shoulders, arms and head. Conservative treatment involves rest and medication but you may want to see your doctor for other recommendations.
- Referred pain. Sometimes your pain in the neck actually originates from another part of the body. For example, neck pain that gets worse with exertion may be due to a heart problem. Neck pain that occurs when you eat may indicate a problem with your esophagus. See your doctor if the pain is consistent and interfering with your daily life.
- Bone pain. Pain and tenderness in the upper or cervical area of the vertebrae is far less common than neck pain emanating from soft tissue. Bone pain needs medical attention because it could signal a serious health problem.
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