This is a common medical condition which may involve any of the tissues in the neck
Degenerative disc disease
Patients with either acute or chronic neck pain can benefit from osteopathic intervention which helps to reduce muscle spasm, increase joint movement and ease pain.
This is a term used to describe normal age-related changes to the discs between each vertebra. The discs lose height and the vertebrae become closer together. There may be no symptoms or the pain may be intense and debilitating. Diagnosis is made based on a physical examination and an MRI may be required.
Treatment involves massage and exercises, and in severe cases steroid injections may be used.
Neck arthritis (Cervical Spondylosis)
This is a common age-related condition affecting the joints and discs in the neck. The degeneration (wear and tear) of these can lead to pain, inflammation and eventually some loss of movement in the neck. Diagnosis is confirmed by X-ray or MRI scan imaging.
Treatment involves massage and gentle joint articulation. Anti-inflammatory drugs or pain killers may be prescribed. Patients are advised to keep the neck mobile and gentle exercises to improve or maintain flexibility can be prescribed.
The shock absorbing discs between the vertebrae can be damaged by the central portion rupturing. If this is large enough, the disc tissue can press on the nearby spinal nerves. Diagnosis is confirmed through MRI scan.
Treatment involves gentle massage and traction. Anti-inflammatory and pain killing medication may be required. IDD therapy (see article) may be advised.
Facet lock or irritation
The facet joints are the connection between the top of the side of a vertebra and the bottom of the side of the adjacent vertebra. Degenerative changes can occur in these joints leading to pain and occasional nerve impingement (pinching). A facet lock occurs when the facets are inflamed causing the surrounding muscles to go into spasm. The neck will often bend over to the side of the pain (crook neck).
Treatment involves gentle manipulation of the joint (if appropriate for the patient). Pain killers or anti-inflammatories may ease the symptoms, along with resting the neck but also keeping gently mobile.
This may be due to poor posture. If the head is bent forward for prolonged period, the neck muscles overwork and may become strained. The shoulders may become hunched, aggravating the problem. Prolonged poor posture may lead to tension headaches (see article).
Treatment involves massage and joint articulation; postural advice and exercises may be given. An assessment of the work station may also be advised.
This term is used to describe an injury caused by a sudden movement of the head forwards, backwards or sideways. This is most commonly caused by a car crash where the car suddenly decelerates but can occur in falls and diving.
The most frequent complaints are headaches and neck stiffness. This may spread to the shoulders. The symptoms may come on immediately or within a few days. If severe, or there are pins and needles in the arms or hands, or a numbness or heaviness of the arms is felt, then a medical opinion should be sought.
Treatment involves ice packs for 10-20 minutes on the affected area and pain killers. Gentle movement should be encouraged to prevent stiffness. Osteopathic treatment may help by massaging the stiff muscles and gently improving the mobility of the neck. Exercises may be prescribed to improve neck function.
Non musculoskeletal causes of neck pain
- Viruses causing sore throats and lymph node swelling
- More rarely, meningitis causing neck stiffness
- Fibromyalgia and polymyalgia rheumatica which affect the muscles of the neck
- Injury such as car crashes and falls as well as sports injuries
A doctor’s opinion should be sought if the pain is severe, if there are pins and needles or numbness in the arms or hands, or if there is an associated high temperature or intolerance to light.