Neck pain can occur anywhere in your neck, from the bottom of your head to the top of your shoulders. It can spread to your upper back or arms. It may limit how much you can move your head and neck.
Neck pain is common, especially in people older than 50.
Most neck pain is caused by activities that strain the neck. Slouching, painting a ceiling, or sleeping with your neck twisted are some things that can cause neck pain. These kinds of activities can lead to neck strain, a sprain, or a spasm of the neck muscles.
Neck pain can also be caused by an injury. A fall from a ladder or whiplash from a car accident can cause neck pain
What Causes Upper Neck Pain?
- Whiplash: This commonly follows a car accident in which the person’s car is hit from behind while it is stationary or slowing down. The person’s head is first thrown backwards and then when their body stops moving, the head is thrust forward. This type of injury can strain your neck muscles and cause ligaments in the neck to stretch or tear. The pain from whiplash, which is usually worse with movement, does not always start immediately it may take several days to come on. Neck pain and stiffness may be accompanied by muscle spasm, dizziness, headaches, nerve pain and shoulder pain.
- Muscle strain: Ongoing overuse of your neck muscles (which can be caused by a poor neck position during everyday activities, particularly computer work) can trigger neck muscle strain, causing chronic neck pain and stiffness. The pain is often worse with movement and may be associated with headaches, muscle spasms and restriction of neck movements.
- Degenerative disc disease: As we grow older, the soft gelatinous centre of the shock-absorbing discs in our spines dries out. This causes the discs to become narrowed, and the distance between the vertebrae to decrease.
- Herniated disc: If the tough outside layer of one of the cervical discs tears, the soft gelatinous centre may bulge outwards — this is known as a herniated disc. Herniated discs can put pressure on nerve roots as they leave the spinal cord, causing pain in the neck as well as pain, numbness and weakness in the arms.
- Cervical spinal canal stenosis: Degenerative changes in the vertebrae can lead to narrowing of the canal in which your spinal cord lies — this is known as cervical spinal canal stenosis. As the canal becomes narrower, it can put pressure on the spinal cord. The associated neck pain is usually worse with activity, and may radiate to the arms or legs. Arm or leg weakness can also occur. Sometimes people with cervical spinal canal stenosis have no symptoms. Occasionally, it may give rise to Lhermitte’s sign — an electric shock-like feeling down the body when the neck is bent forward.
Dangers of Drugs for Upper Neck Pain Treatment
Millions of Australians depend on anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve pain, but the drugs are among the most dangerous on the market. Aside from significantly increasing your heart risks (such as a two to fourfold increase in the risk of heart attacks, stroke or cardiovascular death), NSAIDs are linked to serious gastrointestinal risks like bleeding of the digestive tract, increased blood pressure and kidney problems. Remember, this applies not only to prescription medications like Celebrex but also to over-the-counter drugs like aspirin, Advil and Motrin.
It’s very difficult to find a drug-based method of pain relief that is not saddled with severe side effects. The FDA has even recently limited the amount of acetaminophen allowed in prescription products and added a boxed warning due to liver toxicity concerns. Acetaminophen is actually the leading cause of acute liver failure in the United States.
As for the opioid painkillers like OxyContin, they are among the most commonly abused prescription drugs and are a leading contributor to the rising rates of fatal prescription drug overdoses. Many become addicted after using them to treat conditions like back or neck pain.
But no matter what type of painkiller you choose, the bottom line to remember is that they do not come without risks!
Unfortunately, if you visit your conventional doctor with severe neck pain, a long-term treatment plan will typically include a drug-combination approach, using anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-seizure medications, muscle relaxants and possibly other types of pain medication as well. In other words, the answer for pain relief is drugs, drugs and more drugs — each one raising your risk of suffering potentially lethal side effects.
Powerful drugs can numb your nervous system so the pain doesn’t register. While these approaches may be convenient, they can cause adverse effects and kidney or liver damage. Worse, they don’t correct the underlying cause of the headache.
How to Relieve Upper Neck Pain Naturally
- Take a load off. One of the simplest ways to relieve the pain is to lie down and give your neck muscles a chance to recover. But don’t use a thick pillow that crimps your neck.
- Ice it. Ice effectively numbs pain and decreases inflammation. Put crushed ice in a plastic bag and cover the bag with a pillowcase (a terry towel is too thick to effectively transmit the cold). Apply the icepack to your painful neck for 15 minutes at a time.
- Heat it up. Heat increases circulation and can be effective for easing stiff muscles. Use a wet towel or a hot water bottle, or stand in a hot shower. But don’t keep it up for too long. Too much heat can aggravate symptoms and cause more pain. You might even want to try following up your heat application with a few minutes of cold treatment.
- Relax. Emotional stress can trigger muscle tension. Pay attention to what stresses you: your drive to work, your rush to get dinner on the table each night, meetings with your boss, and so on. After you’ve identified your common stressors, think creatively about ways to reduce your stress. One way to manage stress is through relaxation techniques, such as progressive relaxation or abdominal breathing.
- Perform progressive relaxation, find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Sit or lie down and close your eyes. Then, starting with your head and neck and working down the entire body, consciously tighten, or tense, and then completely release the muscles in the area.
- Practice good posture. Posture has more to do with neck pain than people realise. The head and spine balance in relation to gravity. When poor posture pulls the curve of the lower back forward, the upper back curves farther backward to compensate. In response, the neck curves forward, in a strained position.
- Get and stay trim. Being overweight strains all of the body’s muscles, including those in the neck.
- Do neck exercises. Two types of neck exercises can help ease and prevent neck pain: gentle range-of-motion exercises and isometric exercises. Apply moist heat to the neck before performing the exercises. Each exercise should be done five times per session, three sessions per day.
- ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼Chiropractic Care: Chiropractic works by opening stuck joints, returning movement to the spine, and removing any nerve impingement that might be happening. If a disc herniation is involved, chiropractic is a natural way to provide a long-term solution. Chiropractic gets to the source of the problem, not just addressing the symptoms but finding the area of dysfunction and returning it normal physiology—in other words, making the area work the way it’s supposed to. When function returns, pain goes away. But mind you, getting rid of pain is not the only name of the game as far as chiropractic is concerned; return to function is the real goal, because when function returns, pain goes away on its own. Pain is nothing more than a warning signal telling you when something is wrong. Shutting off the alarm instead of investigating what is causing the alarm to go off only sets you up for a recurring problem. Once found, the solution can then be applied.
The Chiropractic approach is to locate the underlying cause of the problem, with special attention to the upper spine, neck, and shoulders. A vertebral subluxation complex frequently causes neck pain. Many people turn to chiropractic care for safe, effective treatment of neck pain with arm pain, numbness, and tingling. While this is sometimes called a pinched nerve,” there are actually many causes of these symptoms.
Common causes include “trigger points” in various muscles, and irritated nerves from stiff and restricted joints and muscles. While a “pinched nerve” usually responds very well to chiropractic care, it is actually a relatively rare condition. In true cases of pinched nerve, you will feel tingling, numbness, and possibly even weakness due to pressure and inflammation on a nerve from bulging discs or bone spurs along the spine. Pressure on these “pinched nerves” can cause your symptoms to travel away from the spine, along the course of the nerve. The nerves of the neck travel down the shoulder and extend into the arm, hand, and fingers. This is why so many neck problems cause symptoms to radiate into the arm and hand.
The chiropractor then makes a series of adjustments to improve spinal structure, reduce nerve stress and restore proper alignment and spacing, thus eliminating the neck pain – all done without drugs and without invasive procedures.