We’ve all felt the dull ache of a strained neck after work. It’s likely that you don’t even think twice before reaching for an OTC pain reliever or settling into the bath filled with soothing salts and oils that will help the tension seep out of your tired muscles.

However, when does what seems like an everyday ache or pain become something that we should worry about? Check out the conditions and symptoms below to find out.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease is a condition where the cartilage on the end of a bone has been worn down, and the joint becomes inflamed. In the beginning stages of this condition, you’ll notice moderate to severe pain in the joints affected, commonly the knees, hips, lower back, and neck.

In addition to pain in the neck and other joints, you or a loved one may notice mild swelling in the affected area. If the pain and swelling described above persists, you’ll want to call your doctor.

While Osteoarthritis has to be diagnosed by a doctor, there are some care options that you can take to make sure that you’ve got your osteoarthritis under control, and to prevent any bothersome pain in your neck. To help manage the disease long term, you or a loved one might want to try one or all of the following:

  • Maintaining an appropriate weight. Any excess pounds that you might be carrying can add extra pressure to your joints, and worsen the symptoms of your osteoarthritis.
  • If you utilize the affected joints more, you’ll notice that your pain will be far more manageable. While major exercise might sound intimidating after you’ve been diagnosed with ostetharthirits, gentle stretches like the ones used in Hatha and Vinyasa yoga can really help with stiff and aching joints.
  • Medications such as acetaminophen (the generic name for Tylenol), NSAIDs like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen can help ease any pain that you may be experiencing in the joints in your neck, shoulders, hips, or knees. In some cases, your doctor might prescribe stronger, narcotic medications.
  • Ask your doctor about receiving an injection of hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring substance that’s found in joint fluid and acts as a lubricant and shock absorber. However, the acid is usually broken down or absent in people with osteoarthritis.
  • Taking a collagen supplement has shown anecdotal evidence to help reduce joint pain from osteoarthritis and make the joints more stable.

Osteoarthritis results from slow wear and tear to your joints not unlike uneven wear to the tread of automobile tires that have been driven while out of alignment. In the same way, a structural shift of the spine (some subtle and others obvious like scoliosis) is thought to bring on osteoarthritis over time. As such, improving the spinal alignment can bring relief even after the joints have developed irreversible damage.

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a another condition that  could show its first symptoms in the form of neck pain. In most cases of fibromyalgia, the neck and shoulders are two areas of the body where the pain will be most prevalent. If you’re struggling with the beginning symptoms of Fibromyalgia, you’ll notice a stiffness or pain in your neck that’s present in the morning when you first wake up, but fades away as the day goes on.

Additionally, you might also notice that you’re suffering from headaches, having difficulty sleeping, or notice a tingling or numb sensation in your hands and feet.

Fibromyalgia is a muscular pain syndrome that results in pain and stiffness in the back, neck, shoulders, etc. It is a hypersensitivity of the body’s nerve endings that meet the muscles. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, here’s a few treatment methods that you should consider using going forward:

  • Full body massages that will help relax your muscles and relieve tension or pain in your neck shoulders, or other affected areas.
  • Due to the nerve involvement, adjusting the spine to remove mechanical irritation from the nerve roots can help reduce the intensity of pain.
  • Antidepressants have been prescribed to treat the symptoms of depression and fatigue that arrive when other symptoms of Fibromyalgia begin to surface.
  • Non-narcotic medications like acetaminophen can help manage your pain as well, but you can also talk to your doctor about receiving injections of lidocaine, which well temporarily numb the area in which you’re experiencing pain.

Meningitis

If you’re tempted to brush off your stiff neck as another symptom of the bug you might have caught from work, you may want to rethink that. Meningitis is what occurs when the lining around the brain and spinal cord become inflamed. It’s been found that both bacterial and viral meningitis can be the cause of a stiff neck.

Viral Meningitis

Viral meningitis can be caused by previously existing viruses in your immune system such as the herpes virus, mumps, measles, or the flu virus. However, you don’t have to have a preexisting illness in order to contract viral meningitis.

If you’ve been near a child that had a strain of an enterovirus, it could have been spread to you that way. While you’ll want to schedule an appointment with your doctor to get an official diagnosis, viral meningitis usually clears up on its own within two weeks or so.

Bacterial Meningitis

Bacterial meningitis can be the reason behind a persistent stiff neck, but a few other symptoms such as light sensitivity, a distressed mental state, irritability, fever, and a headache. Bacterial meningitis can be caused by exposure to multiple individuals that are carrying the disease.

Apartments, day care centers, university dormitories, and barracks can provide an opportunity for the disease to spread. The contracting of the disease is more likely and far deadlier if you have a vulnerable immune system due to HIV/AIDS, an autoimmune disorder, chemotherapy, or an organ or bone marrow transplant.

If your doctor suspects that you’ve contracted a case of bacterial meningitis, they may suggest moving ahead with the following to obtain a proper diagnosis:

  • A blood culture to identify any bacteria that might have negatively affected the brain.
  • A CT scan, to see if any bacteria left over from sinusitis has spread to the brain.
  • A chest x-ray to see if you have or had a case of pneumonia or a fungal infection that might have caused your case of meningitis.

In order to properly treat meningitis, you’re likely to be admitted to a hospital and given antibiotics to treat your infection. The antibiotics will more than likely be admitted intravenously, and afterwards, your doctor may recommend that you consider receiving a vaccine to decrease your chances of getting bacterial meningitis again.

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