According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, more than 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. Neck discomfort is among the four most common types of pain. Some types of neck injuries can be to blame for this kind of pain, which can affect your psychological health as well as your physical well-being.
Whiplash is also known as cervical acceleration-deceleration (CAD) syndrome. It occurs when the head and the neck are forcefully directed backward and forward. The rapid movements put extreme stress on the cervical spine. This can weaken or tear ligaments and, at times, cause a structural shift in the neck.
Many people get whiplash when they’ve been involved in a car accident. This injury can also happen while bungee jumping, on a roller coaster, playing sports or performing other high-impact activities. At times, it can result from a fall.
The most obvious symptom of whiplash is pain. The discomfort can reveal itself right after the injury occurs. However, it could set in after a day or two.
Some people with whiplash also endure tingling, a feeling of pins and needles, reduced range of motion, instability, weakness and numbness.
Doctors may have a hard time diagnosing whiplash. Some individuals feel the symptoms without showing recognizable signs of an injury. To identify the condition, a medical professional will usually ask you a variety of questions, including:
- How was the neck injured?
- When did the symptoms begin?
- What is the nature of the pain?
Although you don’t think that you’re injuring yourself when you’re repeating a particular motion day after day, you could be damaging the tissues and vertebrae in your neck. According to SPINE-health, people like swimmers and dancers, who perform rhythmic motions with their necks, may put themselves at risk for neck pain. These movements can stress the tendons, ligaments and muscles in the neck.
Holding Your Head In Odd Positions
Your head weighs about 10 pounds. When you’re standing or sitting with perfect posture, the head is positioned evenly above the neck. When all of the joints in your neck, spine and pelvis are stacked, your body can support your heavy head.
When you read, look at your phone, work at the computer or even stand over the stove while cooking, you tilt your head forward. This requires your neck and back muscles to work extra hard to support your head.
Over time, your body begins to compensate itself to sustain this position. Your back muscles may lengthen and weaken. You might develop knots in your upper back and neck. The shortening of the muscles in the front of the neck and chest can lead to headaches or nerve problems in your arms.
You can also develop acute neck pain from keeping your neck in an unusual position for a short period of time. Holding a phone between your neck and shoulder can make you develop a kink. Watching the stars at night can make the back of your neck hurt.
Over time this repetitive slight strain can weaken muscles and ligaments that maintain the structural integrity of the neck. A structural shift of the cervical spine can then cause nerve irritation, or radiculitis.
If someone were to take a picture of you from the side, you would see your ears directly above your shoulders if you were maintaining perfect posture. Your shoulders would be rolled back, and your chest would be open.
Focusing on positioning things like televisions and laptops at eye level can help you correct your posture. Stretches and exercises to build up the imbalanced muscles can also help prevent different types of neck pain from this unhealthy habit.
Sprains And Strains
Sprains and strains are some of the most common neck injuries. A neck sprain occurs when a ligament or muscle in the neck becomes stretched out. This can happen from a sports injury, a fall, or lifting heavy objects incorrectly.
If you have sprained or strained your neck, you will often feel discomfort that gets worse when you move the area. Stiffness may prevent you from wanting to move your neck at all. You might have pain that extends to the back of your head or down into your back and shoulders.
Some other neck injury symptoms that accompany sprains are:
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Numbness in the arms or fingers
Doctors will usually evaluate your muscle strength, neck positioning and range of motion to diagnose these types of neck injuries. They can be treated with anti-inflammatory medications, rest, ice, heat and muscle relaxants.
A herniated or ruptured disc in the cervical spine is one of the most common neck injuries. The discs between the vertebrae work as shock absorbers and keep your spine moving fluidly. If they’re damaged, they can compress nerves, causing pain. The fluid that leaks out of a damaged disc can also pinch or irritate nerves.
This type of discomfort can radiate down into the back, hips, legs, arms and hands. A clinical diagnosis of a disc injury involves:
- A physical examination
- Review of symptoms
- Full medical background review
A doctor will look at your reflexes to determine if any nerves are affected. The doctor will also assess muscle function and strength. Palpating certain areas can help a medical professional find the cause of the pain. X-rays or an MRI of the neck are frequently performed as well.
Disc injuries can be caused by cervical disc disease. However, they can also happen after experiencing a trauma or injury. Lifting a heavy object using improper posture can cause a disc injury.
About 250,000 Americans have a spinal cord injury, according to Medscape. These injuries are often caused by sports, violence and automobile accidents.
However, they can also be caused by degenerative conditions such as osteoporosis. Elderly individuals should be especially careful about maintaining proper posture and avoiding falls to prevent this kind of injury.
Vertebral fractures are emergencies. If they’re not treated, they can lead to more serious complications.
Most mild neck injuries can be treated without surgery. Anti-inflammatory medications and painkillers can help with acute pain. Exercise and physical therapy can treat range-of-motion issues and strengthen the body to better support the neck. Chiropractic care can help restore normal structural alignment to the neck.
If your symptoms are debilitating or significant, you should check with your doctor right away. It’s never a good idea to self-diagnose or treat a neck injury without the supervision of a medical professional.