An introduction to neck pain
Neck pain is quite literally, pain or stiffness in muscles and joints in the neck. The condition is also referred to as a ‘stiff neck’ because movements of the neck and upper spine become limited. Occasionally, the pain affects one or both shoulders and neck pain may also be associated with headaches.
Pain and stiffness in the neck can vary from a mild discomfort to severe pain. It may be acute (with a sudden onset) or chronic (long-lasting) and the cause of the problem can range from a strained muscle, a trapped nerve, stress, to various forms of arthritis.
What causes neck pain?
As you can see, the terms ‘neck pain’ or ‘stiff neck’ cover quite a wide range of ailments with different causes. Without detailed knowledge of the symptoms and history, it can be difficult to get to the root of the problem, and often and X-ray or MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan is needed to rule out specific causes.
Some of the possible causes of neck pain or a stiff neck are listed below:
- Muscular problems, including whiplash
- Arthritis, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
- Spinal problems, including slipped disc, trapped nerve and tumour
What treatments are there for neck pain?
The most effective treatment for your neck pain lies with identifying the cause of your discomfort. The most common cause of neck pain or a stiff neck is a strained muscle in the neck. These often resolve after about a week. However, muscle rubs such as Arnica gel can ease muscular pain, stiffness and reduce inflammation, speeding up the healing process. Arnica gel is applied externally and can also be used alongside many conventional treatments. For general joint pain, Devil’s claw is also an effective herbal remedy.
When is neck pain dangerous?
Most cases of neck pain arise from muscle strain and tend to resolve quickly without any lasting damage. However, there are some signs and symptoms which should not be ignored as they may lead to lasting damage. If you experience these, then medical attention is important:
- A rash which does not fade when pressed – this might be a sign of bacterial meningitis
- Eye pain when looking into light or pain behind one eye – this may be a sign of a migraine
- Severe vomiting
- Neck pain after an injury such as a fall or car crash, particularly if the person is feeling confused or drowsy - this might indicate a head injury
- Difficultly co-ordinating or balancing
- Weakness of or an inability to move or feel in arms and legs.