Neck pain is a common but rarely serious problem. In the UK, two out of three of us will experience it at some point. It’s more common in women than men. Your chance of developing it increases with age.
It is strongly associated with poor posture from prolonged sitting leaning over a computer or hunched over a workbench which strains neck and shoulder muscles. Another common cause is injury or trauma, for example, from sporting activities or from traffic accidents. Inevitably, the ageing process leads to increased ‘wear and tear’ or arthritis in the neck joints. Emotional stress and tension can cause changes in your breathing pattern, plus muscle tension and tightness in the neck, leading to pain and discomfort.
Rarely neck pain can be a symptom of a more serious problem. See details at the end of this article.
What causes neck pain?
Neck pain has many potential causes. These may include natural wear and tear of the cervical spine due to ageing, degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis, overuse of neck muscles during repetitive or strenuous activities, poor posture, physical deconditioning, mental stress, injuries such as whiplash, and certain health conditions like meningitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer.
- Poor posture: For example, straining your neck to view a computer screen for long periods, is probably the single most common cause of neck pain.
- Physical strain: Overusing your neck muscles during repetitive or strenuous activities can lead to pain or stiffness. Long periods of such activities will cause your body to adapt, and this may set up a cycle of ever increasing neck stiffness and pain.
- Ageing: As you age, natural wear and tear can cause parts of your cervical spine to deteriorate, leading to conditions such as osteoarthritis (the wearing down of joint cartilage) and spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spaces in your spine), which can lead to neck pain. With ageing, overuse and repetitive movements, the discs in your spine can get compressed and weaken, causing a bulging or herniated disc to ‘pinch a nerve’.
- Physical deconditioning: weak abdominal muscles and heavier body weight can affect your spine’s alignment and contribute to neck pain.
- Mental stress: A common response to emotional upset and mental stress is to tighten your neck muscles and breath in fast and shallow breaths, which will trigger neck pain and stiffness. When you’re stressed or agitated, you just don’t realize you’re doing this until your neck starts to stiffen and hurt.
- Injury: Trauma and other injuries can damage muscles, ligaments, disks, vertebral joints and nerve roots in your spinal cord and lead to neck pain. Whiplash during road traffic accidents is a common injury that causes neck pain.
- Other health conditions: Neck pain can be a symptom of many underlying health conditions, including meningitis, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.
What are the Symptoms of Neck Pain?
Symptoms can include:
- A persistent ache.
- A stabbing or burning pain.
- A shooting pain that travels from their neck to their shoulders or arms.
Neck pain may involve other symptoms, including:
- Stiffness in your neck, shoulders and upper back.
- Being unable to turn your neck or tilt your head.
- Numbness or tingling (pins and needles) feeling in your shoulders or arms.
How can I relieve my neck pain at home?
Do change position and get moving. This will always be the number 1 advice for simple neck stiffness and pain. If that helps but doesn’t relieve, then read on…
Hot therapy: Take a hot shower or place a hot towel or heating pad (on the lowest setting) on the site of your pain for 15 minutes every few hours. The heat loosens your muscles and promotes blood flow.
Cold therapy: Place a cold pack or a bag of frozen vegetables (wrapped in a thin towel to protect your skin) for 15 minutes every few hours. The cold narrows your blood vessels, reducing inflammation and swelling. Use cold instead of heat immediately after an injury.
Do some simple shoulder shrugs and neck stretches. Follow your healthcare provider’s guidance on neck exercises. You can try to relieve neck pain and improve your range of motion. Don’t attempt exercises if you have a serious neck injury or a pinched nerve.
Do get a shoulder massage if there’s someone able and willing to do that for you. Don’t worry about getting it right – just have a go! The warmth from their hands and the magic of touch seem to promote a rapid muscle relaxation response.
Do take OTC medication (with appropriate advice from your pharmacist or medical practitioner).
Do use simple stress reduction techniques: Mindfulness, meditation, breathing exercises, and yoga can help relieve tension in your body that may contribute to or maintain neck pain. There is a clear link between emotional upset and stress and the experience of neck pain.
Do use a low, firm pillow when you go to bed.
Don’t wear a neck collar, as all the evidence points to the benefits of keeping your neck moving. If, however, you’re already using a soft collar, don’t wear it for more than a week and only for periods of less than 3 hours.
Don’t do anything that could be dangerous because you can’t move your neck – for example, driving or cycling!!
Treatment options for neck pain
Our team at the Backcare and Acupuncture Clinic can help you. With our advice and your preference, you have a choice of physiotherapy, acupuncture, massage and osteopathy in Sutton Coldfield and Walsall. But it all starts with seeing you in the clinic for your initial assessment!
Prevention of neck pain
To prevent neck pain, it’s important to maintain good posture and take frequent breaks if you sit for long periods. Exercise regularly to strengthen your neck muscles, and use a supportive pillow when you sleep.
To prevent neck pain, it’s important to maintain good posture. You can achieve this by positioning electronic devices like computers and phones at a comfortable height and angle that doesn’t require you to slouch or strain your neck when using them. When seated, keep your shoulders aligned and your back straight to avoid neck strain. It’s also important to adjust the seats in your car to maintain good posture while travelling.
To prevent neck pain while sleeping, it’s important to adjust your sleep position. If you sleep on your back or side, use a pillow to support your head so that it is aligned with the rest of your body. You can also place a pillow underneath your knees if you sleep on your back to take additional pressure off your low back. However, it’s best to avoid sleeping on your stomach with your head turned, as this can strain your neck.
Regular movement is key to avoiding neck pain. If your work involves sitting for long periods, it’s important to take regular breaks to move around and stretch your entire body, including your neck muscles. This can help to alleviate stiffness and tension in your neck, which can lead to pain. Consider incorporating exercises like neck rolls and shoulder shrugs into your breaks to help improve your posture and reduce the risk of neck pain.
Smoking damages a bone structure, accelerates ‘wear and tear’ to your joints and slows healing.
Carrying heavy weight on your shoulders can strain your neck and lead to neck pain. To avoid this, it’s important to avoid carrying heavy objects like bookbags or suitcases over your shoulder. Instead, consider using luggage or bags with wheels to distribute the weight more evenly and reduce the strain on your neck and shoulders. If you do need to carry something heavy, try to hold it close to your body and avoid slinging it over your shoulder, which can cause uneven pressure and strain.
Exercise your upper back extensor muscles
To prevent neck pain, it’s important to exercise your upper back extensor muscles. These muscles help to pull your shoulders back and keep your head in a more neutral position.
Exercises that strengthen these muscles include:
Rows: Using resistance bands or weights, pull your elbows back towards your sides, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
Y raises: Lie face down on a bench or stability ball and lift your arms up and out to form a Y shape with your body.
Superman: Lie face down on the ground with your arms extended in front of you. Lift your arms, legs, and chest off the ground at the same time.
Chin tucks: Sit up straight and pull your chin in towards your neck, holding for a few seconds before releasing.
Theraband rowing: Wrap the middle of a theraband around a doorknob, so it’s stable. While standing, grab an end with each hand. Pull your hands toward your waist ten times.
By following these simple tips, you can help to prevent neck and back pain and maintain a healthy spine.
When should I worry about neck and back pain?
See your GP if:
- neck pain or stiffness does not go away after a few weeks
- painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen have not worked
- you’re worried about the pain
- you have other symptoms, like pins and needles or a cold arm – this could be something more serious
- Persists whether you’re moving or staying still.
Seek urgent medical care if your neck pain:
- Develops after an accident.
- Involves a loss of bowel or bladder control.
- Involves a headache, dizziness, nausea or vomiting.
- Occurs with chills, fever or unexplained weight loss.
- Occurs with numbness or tingling in your arms, shoulders or legs.
- Occurs with weakness in your legs or loss of coordination in your arms or legs.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What happens during my initial consultation?
Our priority upon your arrival is to ensure that you feel welcome, comfortable, and well-informed about your appointment. Typically, your initial consultation will last between 45 minutes to an hour. One of our experienced osteopaths will meet you and begin by attentively listening to you. We will inquire about your general health, any current pain you may be experiencing, your medical history, medications you may be taking, and review any medical examination results.
After this initial discussion, we may conduct specific tests to make a diagnosis. You may be asked to perform some gentle movements to allow us to evaluate your posture and mobility.
Using this important information, we will then create a personalized treatment plan tailored specifically to your needs.
What will happen AFTER an initial consultation?
During your second visit to our clinic, we will provide a detailed explanation of our findings from your history and examination. By the end of this session, you will be able to answer several crucial questions, including:
- What is causing my symptoms?
- What are the available treatment options?
- How long is the expected recovery time?
- How much treatment will be necessary based on your personalized treatment plan?
- How much will your treatment cost?
- What can I do to help myself?
- What changes do I need to make to get better, faster?
We take the time to explain and clarify the causes of your symptoms and what can be done to alleviate them. At this stage, we will have created a personalized treatment plan tailored to your specific needs.
What can I expect after my first treatment?
The response to treatment varies from person to person, as everyone is unique. The initial treatment is a crucial step in gauging the patient’s reaction to treatment and determining the best course of action to meet their individual needs.
Immediate relief may be experienced by some patients after the first session, while others may require multiple sessions to see significant progress. It’s vital for patients to realize that treatment is not a one-time fix and that it may take a number of sessions to achieve long-term results, particularly for chronic issues or long-standing musculoskeletal imbalances.
Is treatment painful?
The treatments themselves are not painful, but there might be some discomfort after the spinal manipulation as your body adjusts to the treatment and improved posture. This can result in stiffness in certain regions, which is a natural occurrence, and we recommend using an ice pack on the area for 10 minutes after your session and staying hydrated.
What causes the cracking sound during the treatment?
The cracking or popping sound heard during an osteopathic treatment is caused by the release of nitrogen gas from the joints. This is a normal and common occurrence and may not always happen depending on the technique used. The sound itself is neither significant or important to your progress.
What is the cost of the initial consultation?
The initial consultation is priced at £65, which comprises a thorough spinal evaluation including muscle and nerve testing, orthopaedic examination, as well as posture and movement analysis.
What is the cost of the each treatment?
Each treatment is £45 if you pay as you go. However, we do have discount options available depending on what works best for you.
What days and times are you open?
Monday – Friday 8am – 8pm,
Saturday – 8am – 2pm
Sunday – closed
How long will it take for me to feel better?
The length of time it will take to start to feel better varies a good deal between patients. This difference is based on several factors, including the how long you’ve had the problem and how severe it’s become, your lifestyle and demands of work and family as well as your individual capacity to respond to treatment.
Generally, patients with acute conditions (recent onset) may experience significant improvement within a few sessions, while those with chronic conditions (your symptoms have been present for more than 12 weeks) may require more treatment sessions to attain long-lasting outcomes.
The secrets to getting well are to always turn up for your treatment, follow the guidance of your practitioner and get involved in your own recovery. Don’t delegate your health to your practitioner. It is always a partnership!
What happens if I miss an appointment?
We recognize that we all have busy lives beyond the Backcare and Acupuncture Clinics, but please let us know as soon as possible if you are unable to keep your appointment, and we will make every effort to reschedule it for you. We will make every effort to accommodate your particular schedule