The idiomatic expression “pain in the neck” means being annoying, something which neck pain really is, annoying. It is believed that this is a very common complaint amongst most of us; about two-thirds of the population has it at some point in their lives but it has never been considered a serious ailment since this type of pain is temporary and more or less, disappears with time. About fifty percent (50%) of neck pain episodes have been found resolved in one year, though only ten percent (10%) of cases become chronic.
Just to give you a little background of this very fragile part of the body; the lower neck (and the upper back) supports the weight of the head and does a lot of movement. But since it is not as protected as the rest of the spine, the neck is very much prone to injury and disorders that bring pain and restrict motion. When these areas are adversely affected, the muscles will tighten and cause pain.
Neck pain, or cervicalgia, can be caused by minor factors such as prolonged poor posture, muscle strain or over-use. Serious factors like trauma caused by minor injuries or accidents, abnormalities in the joints or bone, degenerative diseases or tumors are signalled by this pain. Psychologically, stress (physical and emotional) is a major factor why pain develops in these areas. Other rare causes of neck pain are torticollis, rubella, carotidynia, rheumatoid arthritis, congenital cervical rib, mononucleosis, certain cancers, ankylosing spondylitis, cervical spine fracture, esophageal trauma, subarachnoid hemorrhage, lymphadenitis, thyroid trauma, and tracheal trauma.
Diagnosis of this ailment can be through X-Rays, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Myelography or CT scanning, or Electrodiagnostic studies such as Electromyography (EMG) and Nerve Conduction Velocity (NCV).
So, what do you do when your neck pain is really being annoyingly a pain in the neck? Since treatment of neck pain depends on the cause, this kind of ailment can be treated conservatively. Try applying the area with moist heat or ice… Did not help at all? Try painkiller drugs or anti-inflammatory medications and/or analgesics such as acetaminophen or NSAIDs to alleviate soft tissue neck pain. Although topical creams and patches with counterirritants have little evidence to support efficacy, if it helps at all then use them.
If you have arthritis of the shoulder, local corticosteriod injection will definitely be helpful. Process surgery is only recommended for neck pain caused by instability, cancer, or other serious disease. Unless there is spinal cord compression or pain, surgery is not recommended for “pinched nerves” or herniated discs since physical therapy can remedy the pain.
While the painkillers and medications you have taken are doing their job, why not try some neck and shoulder exercises to stretch those taut muscles. Exercise plus joint mobilization or manipulation (or spinal adjustments) are very helpful for acute and chronic mechanical neck pain. Body mechanics training, ergonomic reform and physical therapy does really help alleviate neck pain, and yes- it is free. Go ahead and try stretching your neck now, and relieve yourself of your neck pain