One day you’re feeling perfectly normal, and then the next you can’t turn your head without seeing stars.
Neck pain can range in severity, but it’s always, well, a pain in the neck. In most cases, the discomfort of neck pain is all-consuming for a couple of days and then magically disappears, as though it never happened — but if it sticks with you for more than a couple of days, you need to seek medical help.
There are a few different reasons why you may be experiencing neck pain. Here are the ones that are most common:
- Herniated disc – Our spines are made up of a series of vertebrae that are aligned vertically, one on top of another. Between each of the bony vertebrae are soft centered discs with hard exteriors, and when the hard surface is damaged and the soft gel pushes out. This is called a herniated disc, or if the disc shifts out of its proper position it is called a slipped disc. Whichever condition you have, it puts pressure on the nerves in the area, leading to pain. There are other structural problems that can pinch or put pressure on the nerves in the neck, including bone spurs on the vertebrae.
- Strained muscle or tendon – This condition occurs when a muscle or tendon in the neck gets stretched. It can happen as a result of injury, but also by something as simple as sleeping in an awkward position or spending too much time with your neck stretched in an unusual way – the recent phenomenon called “text neck” is an example of a strained neck muscle.
- Joint wear and tear – As we age or put our bodies through excessive stress, the joints in our bodies wear down. Just as repetitive stress on your knees, elbows, hips or wrists can lead to osteoarthritis, the loss of cartilage or the growth of bone spurs, so too can aging impact the joints in your neck.
- Whiplash – If you’ve recently been in a rear-end accident, then whiplash is probably already on your list of possible reasons for your neck pain. If you haven’t been in an accident, that doesn’t mean that whiplash isn’t the culprit. Whiplash is caused by a forceful back-and-forth movement of the neck, and can result from a sports injury, an assault, or trauma of any kind. Other symptoms are usually present with whiplash, including dizziness and blurry vision.
- Other health problems – If you have ruled out all of the above reasons, it is a good idea to see your physician. There are a number of serious health problems that can cause neck pain, including meningitis, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.
Neck pain is common, and if you’ve found yourself realizing how lucky you were yesterday, when you weren’t in pain – don’t give up hope. Chances are good that taking some over-the-counter pain relievers and using a heating pad for a couple of days is all that you’ll need to resolve it. If, however, you’ve been suffering for more than a week, with no sign of improvement, contact our cervical spine specialist in New Jersey to set up a time to come in for a checkup.