Every year, millions of people visit their doctors for a common problem: neck pain. Neck pain is often diagnosed as cervicalgia. Although a pain in the neck sounds simple, cervicalgia can have many causes. Diagnosing cervicalgia, therefore, can be easy compared to treating it.
One cause of cervicalgia is gravity: your head can weigh ten pounds or more. Keeping your head erect for nearly every waking moment puts enormous stress on your neck muscles. The strain alone can cause muscle fatigue. Another cause stems from your neck’s flexibility: sudden movements can injure muscles that heal slowly due to the constant strain.
Cervicalgia causes localized pain, so it rarely radiates outward. You may experience something as light as a “stiff neck” or as severe as the inability to turn your head due to severe pain or tight muscles. You may refer to your cervicalgia as “a crick in the neck.”
Another symptom of cervicalgia is a sharp pain in your neck whenever you move your head suddenly. The pain often goes away when you relax. Sometimes, it doesn’t return on a regular basis. Other times, you may feel it every time you turn your head or bend your neck.
The discomfort may be merely a sense of tightness in your neck that can extend into your upper back. Your neck and back may be tender to the touch, making massaging very painful.
These symptoms are characteristic of classic cervicalgia. Other symptoms include headaches and general neck stiffness, as well as a burning and aching sensation in your upper back and neck. These symptoms sometimes can point to a more serious illness than cervicalgia. When in doubt, seek a medical exam.
Injury: The most obvious cause of cervicalgia is injury. If you’ve been in a situation in which you might have been injured, such as in a car accident, it is imperative that you see a doctor immediately. An examination can rule out other, more serious conditions than cervicalgia.
Whiplash or neck strain: Microscopic tears in your neck muscles, from sports injuries or accidents, can cause muscles to tighten and swell. These tears often heal on their own, but they can get worse if you don’t let them rest. Most tears occur in the trapezius muscle (covering the back of your neck, shoulders and thorax) or the levator scapulae muscle (covering the back and side of your neck).
Stress: Stress is a very common cause of neck pain. Many people hold their stress in the neck and shoulders, unconsciously clenching those muscles whenever they find themselves in a stressful situation. Over time, this leads to exhausted, overworked muscles.
Workplace ergonomics: How and how long you sit at in a chair at your desk can also cause cervicalgia. Without an ergonomically proper setup, you easily can develop neck and back pain.
Kyphosis: This condition, also known as cervical posture syndrome, affects such athletes as cyclists, baseball catchers, and bodybuilders. Typically, kyphosis sufferers stand with their shoulders rounded forward and their chins poking forward. Their shoulder blades poke out away from their spines. Kyphosis is caused either by a repetitive movement that promotes this posture, as in the case of cyclists and catchers, or by an uneven bodybuilding regimen that makes chest muscles stronger than back muscles, pulling the body forward.
Tight muscles: Tight muscles in your neck and upper back prohibit necessary blood circulation. Lack of blood “starves” your muscles of nutrients, making them weaken and tighten further. This condition can be caused by kyphosis, poor ergonomics in the workplace, scoliosis, and bad posture. Poor or incomplete stretching after training sessions also can be a factor. Once your muscles have loosened up from working out, you have to stretch them properly to cool them off or they will tighten up.
Treatment for cervicalgia varies according to the symptoms and suspected cause. If you’ve been injured, apply ice to your neck and see a doctor immediately. Initial treatment could involve prescription-strength anti-inflammatories and painkillers. You also may be advised to wear a temporary cervical collar to support your head. Wearing the collar gives your neck muscles a chance to rest and heal.
If an injury didn’t cause your neck pain, it may be due to stress. In such a case, you can take measures at home to ease your pain. First, take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug, such as ibuprofen, to reduce swelling. These medications also help your muscles to relax, which also reduces your pain. Applying a heating pad will help, too.
If you spend a lot of time at your desk at work or at home, you can take precautions to prevent cervicalgia. Make sure your chair supports your lower back. Your feet should rest flat on the floor, with your knees bent at a right angle. Adjust the armrests of your chair so that your elbows and forearms rest on the chair. Rest your forearms on the desktop if your keyboard is on top of the desk. If your desk is too high, you may need a footrest to sit comfortably and safely.
If you have kyphosis, massage and stretching help to relax the muscles in your upper chest and neck. Strengthening the muscles in your upper back can help re-balance your body. The pain caused by kyphosis often seems to get worse if you stand or sit in the same position for a long time, but the pain usually goes away once you start moving around.
Regardless of the cause, your cervicalgia can be ongoing and persistent. If your discomfort does not disappear with rest, anti-inflammatory medication, and alternating hot and cold packs, you need to see a doctor. This is especially true if you suspect you’ve had an injury within a few weeks of the onset of your symptoms.
Contact us to learn more about the condition and treatment of your cervicalgia.