Causes and Solutions: Answering Your Questions About Neck Soreness

March 25th, 2014

Did you know that more than 80% of people will suffer from some type of back or neck pain throughout the course of their lifetime? With the impact of this type of pain being so widespread, it is critically important to offer education on the possible causes, preventative measures and potential solutions associated with neck soreness. But first, let’s take a step backward and become a little more familiar with the anatomy of the human spine.

What is the Neck?
When patients complain of neck pain, they are technically referring to a problem with their cervical vertebrae. These are seven doughnut-shaped bones in the upper torso connect the lower spinal column to the skull. Because we count on our neck to offer us a significant range of motion and because it is made up of the bones and muscles that support the weight of the head, it is not uncommon to experience neck soreness due to any number of causes.

Potential causes of neck pain and stiffness include:

  • Sleeping in an uncomfortable position or with an unsupportive pillow
  • Any jarring impact to the body that could result in a whiplash effect
  • Maintaining poor posture for long periods of time (for example, at your desk at work)
  • Straining the neck muscles during exercise (this usually involves either the use of too much weight or improper form)

While these are the more common causes of neck problems, there are certainly more serious causes, such as accidents. More traumatic impact to the upper torso or head can result in severe neck injuries, including vertebral fractures, blood vessel injury or paralysis. If you would describe your neck pain as including numbness, tingling or weakness extending through your arms, then your injury may involve nerve damage and you should be seen by a physician immediately.

If, however, you are like the majority of individuals, you would describe your condition as simple neck soreness or even as having a “stiff neck,” then with some non-invasive care and a little rest, you should be back to feeling great in a matter of a few weeks!

Why am I Suffering From Neck Soreness?

Because it is less protected than the rest of the spine, the neck is particularly susceptible to injury and also to general wear and tear through the years. Outside of the common causes listed above, there may be some other possible causes of your neck pain.

1) Whiplash
When the neck is jolted in a sudden and forceful manner, the soft tissue surrounding the bone may actually suffer a strain or sprain. Patients complain of this most often after car accidents, but whiplash can occur in other situations as well. While severe whiplash can affect discs, ligaments and nerves, most cases are mild and simply result in uncomfortable neck soreness and stiffness. If you believe you may be suffering from mild whiplash, ask a physician for recommended treatments. General, these may include:
Wearing a soft cervical collar for 2 or 3 weeks in order to support and stabilize the neck while the soft tissue heals
Doing exercises/PT to improve range of motion and gain strength
Utilizing heat therapy or muscle relaxants to ease pain

One of the most commonly prescribed treatments for mild neck pain due to whiplash is simple rest. If a patient refrains from activity and takes an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen, the stiffness will usually subside within several weeks.

2) Cervical Spondylosis and Herniated Cervical Disk
In some patients (usually over the age of 40), general wear and tear and the natural effects of aging have taken their toll on the disks between the vertebrae in the neck. These disks, which normally act as cushions between the bones, begin to degenerate and the joints of the spine are forced to carry extra stress. In some cases, the disk may even protrude - or herniate - and apply pressure on nerves, resulting in sharper pain.

While this cause of neck soreness is generally related to aging, it can occur in younger individuals as a result of improper lifting or sharp twisting movements. The good news is that 90% of herniated discs do not require surgical intervention. Non-operative treatments include:
Simply resting the neck - potentially with the use of a brace
Taking ibuprofen to reduce swelling (narcotics are generally avoided)
PT rehabilitation techniques, including ultrasound, muscle stimulation, whirlpool treatments and exercises

In more severe cases, an epidural injection of a steroid may be offered. Provided in the direct location of the herniated disc, the steroid can provide pain relief for a patient that may be experiencing extreme discomfort.

Remember that the physicians at Rothman Orthopaedic Institute have been addressing neck injuries for years and are known throughout the nation (and the world) as some of the top doctors in their areas of expertise. If you are suffering from severe neck pain or are dealing with neck soreness that will not subside, contact Rothman today!

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