Pain in the neck is a familiar idiom that means a major nuisance or annoyance. If you have ever experienced neck pain from sickness or injury, you can surely relate to this saying. Since the neck is so flexible and supports your entire head, however, it is one of the more vulnerable parts of the body as well. Neck pain is a common medical condition, but did you know that there are a variety of neck pain causes that can become chronic, from bad posture to infections? What causes neck pain? It can actually come down to a few contributing conditions and even more of your daily habits you’re doing unconsciously.
Neck pain is so common in fact that it has been estimated that 85% of the U.S. population has suffered from back and neck pain at least once in their life.
Still not convinced? Neck pain affects 45% of today’s workers, making it one of the most economically damaging pain conditions today. It is also one the most common reasons people visit their physicians, but most people still don’t understand how they develop neck pain. There are lots of habits that cause neck pain, so knowing these causes is the first step to alleviating the pain.
A multitude of disorders and diseases can produce chronic neck pain as a symptom. Many involve the tissues throughout the neck. Some disorders include meningitis, arthritis, degenerative disc disease, and cancer. Injuries such as muscle strain, whiplash, or a herniated disc can also causes long-term issues.
The major symptoms of neck pain include:
- Muscle pain
- Stiff neck
- Increased pain from staying in a static position (using a computer or driving)
- Throat pain
In many cases, self-care for two to three weeks can resolve neck pain for mild to moderate cases. This can include neck stretches, heat pads, and neck pillows. But, as always, you should talk to a medical professional if you believe you have any of these conditions. You should contact a doctor immediately if your pain is severe or persists unabated for several days or if you experience a tingling, weak, or numb sensation in your arms or legs.
1. Muscle sprain or strain
This is one of the most common neck pain causes, as it is an injury to the neck muscles and tissues. Specifically, it is often an injury in the levator scapula, which is the muscle group in the back and side of the neck that connects it to the shoulders. This injury can happen in a variety of different ways, many of which occur while performing everyday activities.
Poor posture is a major culprit of this cause of neck pain. Poor posture includes slouching while sitting in chair or using a computer. Constantly looking downward at a smart device can also be an issue, so much so that they have a name for it: text neck.
Sleeping with the neck at an awkward position can also cause a lot of pain. This is similar to holding your neck in an unnatural position for a long period of time while awake such as when you are on the phone and cradling it between your neck and shoulders.
Sports injuries that include a forceful impact or a jarring of the head to one side can also cause injuries. This can include other active exercises, such as repeatedly moving your neck back and forth when swimming laps.
Another common cause of neck pain occurs when a person’s neck and head are rapidly snapped forward and backwards with great force. This is known as whiplash. The most typical cause of whiplash is from motor vehicle accidents, but it is also found from sports injuries, abuse, and other traumatic events.
Whiplash is a disorder that can vary greatly between people. Most who suffer from this condition recover in a few short months after mild pain medication, exercise, and other treatment therapies. However, there are cases when the pain and other symptoms that develop because of whiplash develop into a chronic condition.
Symptoms for whiplash are similar to the symptoms for neck pain, but can also include blurred vision, ringing in the ears, memory problems, sleep disruption, difficulty focusing, and depression. This is a serious condition that should be reviewed immediately as fractures and additional tissue damage could be part of the underlying problem.
3. Cervical herniated disc
The tissue between the bones in your neck are intervertebral discs. These are made up of a soft center surrounded by a strong outer lining. This tissue creates joints between each bone in your spine that allow the spine to move. The main cause of a herniated disc is the loss of flexibility and elasticity that comes with aging. The ligaments in the neck that surround these discs start to weaken and are more easily damaged.
This condition occurs when the soft material from the inside of one of the discs in your neck leaks out and irritates or pinches a nearby nerve. This produces a pain in your neck, which can radiate out to other parts of the body such as the lower back, legs, and arms. This condition can be quite serious. If you experience weakness or tingling in your arms, you should seek medical assistance immediately.
The early onset of this infection may mimic flu-like symptoms and can take several days or hours to develop fully. While this is not a common reason for neck pain, it is important to note as it can be potentially deadly. This condition can occur in a variety of different forms including bacterial and viral. Viral is the most common, but is a milder form and generally clears up on its own.
Bacterial, however, can be a very serious illness that requires immediate medical attention. Untreated bacterial meningitis can lead to permanent brain damage or death, so it is highly advised that you seek medical care if you experience a sudden high fever coupled with neck pain and stiffness, vomiting, or severe headaches.
5. Cervical spinal stenosis
This condition refers to the narrowing of the open spaces between the bones in your spine, specifically in the neck. Symptoms for this disorder can also greatly vary among people, with some presenting with no symptoms and others experiencing pain, tingling, and numbness in the extremities, and problems with the bladder or bowels.
Cervical stenosis is caused mostly by age as normal wear and tear can cause bone spurs to form. Thickened ligaments can also cause this condition as over time they can become stiff and bulge into the spinal canal. Major trauma can also be a cause resulting in a dislocation or fracture of one of the vertebrae. Swelling of local tissue from surgery can also put pressure on the spinal cord and associated nerves.
Daily habits that are causing your neck pain
Most of us know that you can get neck pain from sports injuries and certain illnesses, but you might be surprised to learn that there are everyday habits that cause neck pain. A variety of simple things you don’t think about can cause this pain, such as using a smartphone or computer, reading a book, or just watching TV.
The main reason neck pain happens in everyday life is because of overuse of the neck muscles. Sitting or standing in an awkward position or remaining locked in one spot for too long can really put a strain on neck muscles. There are also substances that can cause all kinds of issues to the ligaments and discs in your neck. While injury, contributing conditions, and illness can cause neck pain, it is much more likely that one of these lifestyle habits is the culprit.
1. Poor posture
Tons of people suffer from bad posture, which can easily lead to a chronic pain in the neck. A big reason for poor posture in today’s world comes from computers and how we use them. Home and office chairs rarely are designed to conform to the S curve of the spine and this leads to most of us slouching in our chairs. This slouching adds additional pressure to the neck and spine, leading to inflammation, stiffness, and pain.
A day of poor posture probably won’t lead to a chronic pain condition. However, constantly sitting in a slouched position will do some serious damage in the long term. Try using a chair with lumbar support and armrests and always make sure computer monitors are even with your line of sight so you don’t have to constantly be looking up or down.
Stress is one of those things that shows up in almost every list when talking about pain, and for good reason. It also causes your muscles to tense up and contract, leading to soreness and stiffness. Stress tends to show up most often in the neck and shoulders as well.
It is always a good idea to relax a little each day. Try meditation or a soothing hobby. Whatever it is, being able to release stress will definitely help in general, as well as helping you avoid other habits that cause neck pain. You can also try one of these stretches to help ease the stress.
Not that smoking needed any more negative effects, but neck pain has been added to its list anyway. One of the main reasons for this is that smoking dehydrates the cervical discs in the spine, leading to an increase in degeneration that naturally occurs with aging. It also greatly increases the risk of certain diseases such as microvascular diseases, which can damage the blood vessels along the cervical discs leading to a reduction in nutrients in the upper spine.
There is a lot of research out there that shows how smoking affects everything from your neck and back pain to lungs, skin, and hair. Stopping smoking can do wonders for your health, so you might as well start finding ways to quit now.
4. Sleeping position
Sleeping position is also one of the major habits that cause neck pain. You can sleep on your side or back to avoid problems. Stomach sleepers are in for some bad news, as this position can really do a number on your neck. Having to twist your neck to one side when you’re on your stomach applies quite a bit of pressure on your nerves and can lead to some awful neck pain.
5. Sleep hygiene
If you are having trouble sleeping, this can also lead to all kinds of pain including neck pain. It is a common occurrence for those who have sleep issues to have an increased sense of overall pain. This increased pain also leads to more sleep problems, so a vicious cycle can ensue.
Be smart and check your sleeping habits. Good practices include:
- Going to bed and waking up on a schedule
- Avoiding caffeine
- Exercising regularly
- Avoiding technology when it is close to bed time
6. Smartphones and tablets
Neck pain caused by texting is so common now that it has a name – text neck. This condition is characterized by the act of constantly overextending your neck by looking down at your smartphone. Whether you are surfing the web or sending a text, putting your chin to your chest when using your smart device can really mess up your neck. It’s also one of the biggest habits that cause neck pain.
Trying stepping away from your smart device if you are developing neck pain. Other solutions can be holding your phone at eye level when using it or doing neck stretches to work out some of the tension in your neck muscles.
7. Carrying a heavy briefcase or purse
Many people use a purse, brief case, or backpack to help them transport various objects like laptops, files, and books. Unfortunately, when these items get too heavy, they can cause neck and shoulder pain. When what you are carrying is heavy, it throws off your natural gait, causing you to become unbalanced and overuse one side of your body.
The extra weight also applies additional pressure to your shoulder and neck muscles. This ends up causing a lot of stiffness and pain in these areas. Try lowering the weight in your bag by taking out any nonessentials. You can also switch what side you are carrying your bag on every few blocks to even out the weight and develop the muscles in each side equally.
What causes neck pain for you?
What causes neck pain for you? If you’re suffering from pain that’s affecting your every day life, there is help. Click the button below to find a pain specialist in your area. They can help you find the treatments you need to find relief.