Neck pain can have a variety of causes, including past trauma or injury, a bulge in a disc flanked by the vertebrae that is trapping a nerve, arthritis, or an otherwise muscular or mechanical problem related to the neck. Also called cervical pain, neck pain is commonly experienced as a dull ache. Often, describing the type of neck pain being experienced will assist in the diagnosis of its cause; for example, a sudden, intense pain (acute pain) is most likely caused by facet syndrome, muscular rheumatism or just a cramp in your neck. Most individuals will experience some sort of neck pain over the course of their lifetime; however, women are far more likely to be afflicted.
Common neck pain causes
In addition to the previously mentioned causes, neck pain can be triggered by:
- Stress or worry.
- Sleeping or completing tasks with the head positioned awkwardly.
- A pinched nerve.
- Muscle strains and sprains. Muscles in the neck are most frequently strained by fatigue due to overuse. The strain is most often caused by everyday activities, such as reading in bed, browsing the internet on a monitor placed too high or low, or having poor posture when watching television.
- Worn joints. Neck joints experience wear and tear as they age, causing stiffness and aches in the neck.
- Scoliosis. The S shaped curvature of the spine associated with scoliosis puts stress on the neck, causing pain.
- Osteoporosis. Neck pain due to osteoporosis is caused by fractures of the spinal bones; these fractures may also cause lower back pain.
- Rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis in the neck is generally caused by years of bad posture that eventually resulted in deteriorated joints.
- A herniated (slipped) disc. This happens when part of the gelatinous material found inside a spinal disk is forced through a weak spot in the disk’s cartilage, putting pressure on surrounding nerves. Symptoms of neck herniation include pain during neck movement, shoulder blade pain, or radiating pain in the arm or fingers.
- Whiplash. Whiplash is caused when damage occurs to the soft tissue of the neck. It is usually felt virtually instantly (although sometimes the pain doesn’t appear for a few days) and is caused by a rapid back and forth motion of the head that has strained the neck. Symptoms of whiplash include headaches and dizziness, stiffness in the neck, difficulty swallowing, shoulder and back pain in addition to neck pain, and unusual burning or prickling sensations. Whiplash causes Facet Syndrome; the sharp pain from this syndrome usually is the product of irritated joints on the back side of the spinal vertebrae.
Cause for Concern
Usually neck pains have relatively benign origins, but occasionally they are symptomatic of a far more serious problem. The sudden appearance of rashes in conjunction with neck pain could signal meningitis. If these marks don’t lighten after you press on them with a finger, consult a physician immediately. Other symptoms to watch for include continuous vomiting, fever, and light sensitivity.