Millions of people suffer from upper back and neck pain. If the pain is chronic (lasting for more than six months at a time), it can consume your life, physically and emotionally, and takes time away from your family, friends and work. It can rob you of functionality in your daily life as well.
The pain you are feeling may be due simply to the stresses that your neck undergoes from holding up the weight of your head. If you strain or sprain your neck, that causes additional trauma to an already prone area, and it can seem like it will never heal. Neck sprains start when the ligaments are injured, typically during a traumatic event such as a car accident (whiplash) or a sports injury. Each of your vertebrae are connected by ligaments, and when they are stretched too far or are even slightly torn, pain can manifest in the following ways: pain upon movement of the neck; pain down the sides of your neck; muscle twitching or spasms that affect the upper shoulders and back; stiffness and tingling or weakness down your arms or down to your hands.
Sometimes the pain will take 24 to 48 hours to show up. You might have injured your neck and not even know it for a couple of days. If that’s the case, it’s probably a sprain. Either way (whether it’s a sprain or a strain), the treatment is usually the same, and that is Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation (R.I.C.E.). If this does not help with your upper back and neck pain after a relatively short period of time (a day or two), go see your doctor and make sure you have not more severely injured yourself. Sometimes therapies can take weeks to get rid of the pain altogether. More severe injuries call for a doctor’s advice, and you should avoid sports, or tasks that further stress your already compromised neck. Your doctor may prescribe a soft neck brace in addition to icing several times a day, which helps with the inflammation and potential swelling.
Other treatments include anti-inflammatory medication, either prescription-strength or over-the-counter. Your doctor may prescribe painkillers as well; take your prescription medication exactly as advised on the package inserts and according to your doctor’s instructions, and try to graduate from the painkillers to OTC remedies and then to holistic remedies as soon as possible. Anti-inflammatory medication will help with swelling, and in the reduction of pain. You should avoid the application of heat during the early stages of upper back and neck pain. Heat can aggravate the injury, causing further inflammation and pain from the increased blood circulation. While it might help later on, initially, avoid it until advised otherwise by your doctor.
A doctor can determine the extent of the injury and decide a course of therapy and rehabilitation. The best thing you can do for yourself is rest and using common sense, avoid those activities that will aggravate the situation further, such as strenuous lifting, bending, twisting of your neck, or exercises that are not sanctioned by your doctor or physical therapist. In the meantime, arm yourself with the right pillows and/or chairs that encourage proper posture, therefore taking added pressure and pain off your upper back and neck area.
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Written By: Updated: July 12,2011