Neck pain is a very common medical condition, estimated to affect up to 40% of the population at least once a year. It is more common in females and occurs more frequently in adults and the elderly.
Also frequently called neck pain , neck pain can be caused by a very wide range of ailments and diseases, of widely varying severity, linked to each of the structures that make up the neck or to the organs that pass through it.
In most cases, episodes of neck pain resolve spontaneously with rest or following specific treatments, but more than 50% of individuals declare that the symptom never resolves completely, or that it returns after a period of absence.
There are many ways to classify neck pain, but the most commonly used is based on duration.
- Neck pain lasting less than 6 weeks is defined as acute .
- subacute pain that lasts more than 6 weeks but less than 3 months
- and chronic if it lasts more than 3 months.
The longer the duration of the disorder, the more unlikely it becomes to find a truly curative therapy.
What is Neck Pain?
In the medical field, neck pain is known as cervicalgia : it is a common disorder that affects the structures of the neck, including the muscles, nerves and vertebrae of the spine. Neck pain is often described as a “stiff neck ” most often affecting only one side of the neck.
Causes of Neck Pain
Neck pain can derive from a multitude of causal elements, of different nature; in mild forms, neck pain is often due to assuming an incorrect position or to cold shocks, responsible for tension and muscle fatigue that lead to episodes of neck pain. Even more intense is neck pain resulting from heavy injuries and injuries, which can result in the so-called whiplash; again, herniated discs, degeneration of intervertebral discs and bone spurs can ignite neck pain. Sometimes, neck pain is a result of serious conditions, such as meningitis, rheumatoid arthritis and spinal cancer.
The habit of continually clenching your teeth, advanced age, the presence of osteoarthritis ( spondylosis), lack of sport, stress are some of the possible risk factors for the development of neck pain.
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Symptoms of Neck Pain
When neck pain involves the nerves, the patient often complains of an uncomfortable tingling or numbness sensation, often accompanied by arm and hand weakness.
The intensity of neck pain is subjective and also depends on the cause that favored it; neck pain does not always reflect an alarming condition, but it is advisable to consult a doctor in case of persistent pain, loss of strength in the hands and arms, continuous tingling in the upper limbs, headache and inability to touch the chest with the chin.
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HOW DOES NECK PAIN ORIGINATE?
The most common signs of neck pain are symptoms such as limited mobility, shooting pain, or a pulling sensation associated with a headache. If they occur individually, the symptoms can be annoying but should not cause concern; this is the case, for example, of stiffness in the neck due to a cold snap. However, other symptoms such as tension-type headache, muscle tinnitus or frequent dizziness can reduce quality of life in the long term. It’s good to keep in mind that neck pain, even if it’s occasional, is a warning sign. Acute pain can become chronic and give rise to secondary conditions if neck and shoulder complaints are ignored early on.
HOW TO DISTINGUISH ACUTE AND CHRONIC NECK PAIN?
We speak of acute neck pain when the complaints resolve within two weeks. Subacute pain can last up to four weeks. If symptoms persist for more than six weeks, neck pain is considered chronic. If you experience frequent flare-ups interspersed with pain-free periods (lasting at least one month), you are dealing with recurring neck and shoulder pain.
Medicines for the Treatment of Cervical Pain
The treatment for neck pain depends on the cause that induced it.
For example, for mild neck pain, painkillers are needed to be taken orally to reduce pain, while for analgesic control of the more severe forms, injections of analgesic drugs or corticosteroids are recommended.
Even cryotherapy, or ice therapy, seems particularly suitable for creating a sort of analgesia directly in the site affected by the pain: in this case, the application of bags or ice packs is recommended, not to be placed directly in contact with the skin , within the first 2-3 days after the injury. After 48-72 hours, it is recommended to replace cryotherapy with heat therapy: in this case, warm showers and warm water compresses on the neck are recommended.
In some cases, it is necessary to immobilize the neck with special collars: forced immobilization of the neck is generally recommended for neck pain caused by muscle sprains and whiplash (e.g. following a road accident). The orthopedic collar, applying a slight pressure in the structures of the neck, helps to relieve the pain; it should be emphasized that the collar should not be kept for a period exceeding 2 weeks.
A few words should be said about the importance of exercises for neck pain: a specific program of exercises, practiced frequently, can relieve pain, thus improving the patient’s quality of life, especially those who complain of chronic neck pain. It is recommended to perform physiotherapy exercises slowly, avoiding fast movements and sudden jerks, which could exacerbate the pre-existing problem.
Only in severe cases, surgery is the last viable option to resolve severe neck pain, useful for relieving compression of the spinal cord and nerves.
Remedies and cure of Neck Pain
Each patient presenting with neck pain is a unique case and consequently the treatment depends on the exact underlying cause. Treatment options include
- application of hot or cold compresses, depending on the cause and evolution,
- physical therapy (with ultrasound, massage or manipulation of the neck),
- application of creams or patches containing painkillers,
- use of muscle relaxant drugs
- local injections of cortisone or anesthetics (infiltrations),
- more rarely surgical procedures.
- It is recommended not to use orthopedic collars unless expressly prescribed by the doctor.
In some cases, alternative treatments such as acupuncture are proposed, for which, however, there is only, at best, moderate scientific evidence.