Neck pain can cause localised pain within the actual neck or it can radiate into the head causing headaches, or down into the shoulders and the arms. Symptoms can range from stiffness & discomfort to sharp pain, or nerve related symptoms such as pins & needles and/ or numbness. Establishing the cause of your symptoms is important and doing this quickly can help prevent your symptoms from progressing and worsening.
In terms of the type of activity that can cause neck pain it can vary widely, from being over sedentary, to doing repetitive movements or being in one position for extended periods of time. By getting an accurate diagnosis of what’s causing your symptoms, it can help you manage them more effectively and efficiently.
Our patients with neck pain do a variety of jobs and activities, manual jobs such as plumbers, plasterers and carpet fitters to desk based workers or people who do a lot of traveling for work – all of these jobs can place increased demand on the neck (and other areas of the body) which overtime could lead to it becoming symptomatic.
Whiplash is another common cause of neck pain. Whether the patient has had the injury occur recently or historically, the effects of whiplash can linger and cause pain and discomfort for patients.
Some of the Common Structures That Can Cause Neck Pain
Our vertebra are the bones that make up our spine and the part of the bone that connects one vertebrae to the other are our facet joints (Zygapophyseal joints). The facet joints, along with the intervertebral discs help our spines transfer forces, as well as guide movement and motion and because of this it can predispose the facet joints to injury. Facet joint injuries can be acute causing sharp, sudden pain or more chronic and the symptoms can be localised or dispersed. The inflammation from around the facet joint can also cause muscle spasms and inflammation of the nerve which may produce symptoms in the upper back or down into the arm. The facet joints can become symptomatic for a number of reasons such as stress and tension, poor posture, road traffic accidents and sports injuries.
There are 23 discs in a human spine and these discs are made of shock absorbing fibrocartilage and sit between the vertebrae. They act like shock absorbing cushions which allows our spines to be strong and flexible structures that can absorb big forces.
A disc consists of 2 main components: It has a softer gel-like centre called the nucleus pulposus which is surrounded by tough fibrous cartilage rings called the annulus fibrosus. A disc herniation, commonly called a slipped disc is when the nucleus pulposus pushes out into the annulus fibrosus creating a bulge. The actual disc tissue itself is not painful, but it can cause inflammation to the surrounding structures which could produce pain which can range from mild to severe. It can also cause nerve symptoms such as sharp, burning pain, pins and needles and numbness in the neck, upper back or down into the arm.
The discs are mainly avascular – which means they don’t have a major blood supply to them and because of this they do generally take longer to heal. A disc injury can take up to 12 weeks to resolve. Manual therapy like osteopathy and specific exercises to help stretch and strengthen your muscles can help speed up this process.
It’s worth remembering that a disc herniation doesn’t always cause pain or symptoms. Disc herniations can be incidental findings on MRI scans, so the patient could have a disc herniation but not have any symptoms or pain related to it.
Osteoarthritis can occur throughout the body including the spine and it’s a natural part of ageing – some people will suffer with symptoms and some people will have no symptoms at all. Commonly osteoarthritis is referred to as ‘wear and tear’ and it can occur at any age, but most commonly affects people over the age 50.
Osteoarthritis can cause pain in the joints, muscle aches and tension and inflame the nerves especially when it occurs in the spine. Although it’s worth remembering that some people can also have arthritic changes in their joints and not have any symptoms. Osteoarthritis is irreversible and there is no cure but people can manage their symptoms well. Osteopathy can help you manage your symptoms by helping stretch & strengthen the surrounding muscles, give you tailored exercises to help you maintain as much mobility & flexibility as possible. We also give lifestyle advice to our patients, tips on how to make day-to-day activities more manageable.