Common Causes of Neck Pain and What to Do About Them

Neck pain is one of the most common things that we all experience from time to time. And it can be caused by a number of things — from how we move and sleep to our lifestyle choices to our genes.

Let’s look at few of the most common causes of neck pain, how you can avoid neck pain and what to do if you feel discomfort.

Strained Neck Muscles or a Stiff Neck

Muscle strains in the neck are among the most common type of neck pain and are often caused by everyday activities including:

  • Too much time in a specific position such as driving, sitting, looking down at your mobile device, cradling a phone in your neck, etc.
  • Sleeping in an awkward position or with a pillow that doesn’t support your neck (see also: Sleeping With a Cervical Pillow for Neck Pain).
  • Carrying a heavy object, such as a suitcase or a child, on only one side of your body.

Try to adjust your position when sitting or standing and use good posture. Plus, be sure your pillow supports your neck correctly. Typically these strains will feel better within a day or two of stopping or changing the condition that caused the neck pain. If you would like relief in the meantime you can try over the counter pain relief medications, massage or heat therapy using a hot shower or a heating pad.

Arthritis in the Neck

This is also called cervical osteoarthritis and is caused when the cartilage in the facet joints in the cervical spine (which is in the neck area) wears away. This causes the bones to rub against one another, and that causes neck pain.

Arthritis in the neck can be caused by a variety of things including simply getting older. It does tend to be a hereditary condition for many. You may also be more likely to develop arthritis in the neck if you had a neck injury earlier in life. Also, those who are overweight or whose jobs require a lot of heavy lifting or repetitive movements tend to develop arthritis in the neck more often.

The Arthritis Foundation states that researchers have found exercise can provide relief from neck pain — whether it’s caused by arthritis or other causes. Results showed that strength-training exercises worked best to relieve neck pain.

You can also talk with your doctor about pain management options or other treatments for arthritis that can be used in the neck.

Tension Headaches

If you find that your neck pain is accompanied by a dull ache in your head and/or a feeling of tightness or pressure across your forehead or on the sides and back of your head, you may be experiencing a tension headache. Some people experience these every so often while others have them quite often. It can cause pain in the neck with the tightening of the muscles in the head and neck area.

Tension headaches are not quite the same as a migraine, but might feel like one and can be just as debilitating. However, tension headaches don’t usually have visual disturbances, nausea or vomiting like a migraine.

The best solution is to start with trying to reduce stress, eat right and get rest. You’ll also want to be sure you don’t drink too much caffeine or smoke because these also make tension headaches worse. You can also ease tension in your muscles with a hot shower, heating pad or hot compress that you rest on your shoulders and neck.

You may want to note how many times you get these types of headaches in a week as well as what you were doing when you got them to see if there’s a pattern.

Degenerative Disc Disease

While degenerative disc disease technically isn’t a disease, there can be pain in your neck caused by the wearing away of one or more of the six gel-like cervical discs (one between each of the cervical spine’s vertebrae) that absorb shock and prevent your bones from rubbing against each other while the neck moves. As we get older those gel shock absorbers start to lose their water which results in less cushioning and more cracks and tears.
Since there’s no direct blood supply the discs can’t repair themselves, resulting damage that doesn’t heal over time.

Many people don’t feel any pain even though their cervical discs have started to degenerate. However if there is inflammation in the cervical disc space, the neck pain may be local or can radiate into the arm, shoulder and possibly into the hand.

For most people, treatment is nonsurgical and can include exercise or physical therapy, over the counter pain relief medications and sometimes muscle relaxers that help stop the muscle spasms in your neck.

Talk to your doctor about the best approach for you if your neck pain doesn’t start to feel better with some stretching, heat and relaxation after a day or two. A neurosurgeon, such as Dr. Fayaz, is experienced in the wide variety of neck conditions and can help to find the right solution for you. Call to schedule an appointment.