Common Causes of Neck Pain – Learn 5 Management Strategies!




In this article we will discuss the common causes of neck pain. We will also give you 5 management strategies that you can start to implement today.

At some point during our lives most of us will experience neck pain. Neck pain affects many people and can be very disabling when it prevents you to do your work or do your normal daily activities. Neck pain is the second most common musculoskeletal condition for which people seek help in the healthcare setting, after back pain.1

Neck pain are often described as pain felt in the neck area, but it can also be accompanied by other symptoms such as referred pain into the shoulder or arm, stiffness or headaches.

Why is neck pain so disabling?

If you think about it, your neck actually connects your body to your head. The neck give us the ability to observe things, for example: by looking over your shoulder you can see what is going on behind you.

Activities like driving, texting, typing or working behind a desk can put a lot of strain on your neck, as these activities often force you to be in one position for prolonged periods of time. Prolonged positions often lead to pain and stiffness. Pain can sometimes disable you to do even these simple daily tasks.

Pain can occur either intermittently, that is, there are times in the day where you have no pain. Or you can also experience constant pain, where some degree of pain is felt the whole day long. People who have pain all the time are frequently forced to reduce their activities or stop their work. Either way neck pain can make your life miserable and we want to show you some ways how you can get rid of the pain.

It’s important that you understand where neck pain comes from before we go into the management thereof.

3D render of a female figure with neck bones highlighted

Structures that can cause neck pain:

  • Joints:

There are 7 bones (C1 – C7) in the top part of your spine that forms your neck.  C1 being the top part of your spine. Each of these bones forms a joint with the bone above and below it and form a facet joint on each side.

  • Discs:

In between the joint are the discs. The discs consist of  a gel-like centre (Nucleus), which is surrounded by a tough outer layer called the annulus. The discs are similar to rubber washers that will help to absorb the shock of certain neck movements. This gives them the ability to alter their shape, thus allowing movement of the one vertebra on another and of the neck as a whole.

  • Nerves:

On each side of your neck, a nerve runs out from between each of your neck joints. These nerves supply the whole of your upper limb/arm. Nerves are responsible for sensation (being able to feel touch, temperature, pressure etc.) and movement (helping muscles to contract). Nerves also transmit messages to your brain that could be interpreted as pain, so they play an important part in any injury and experience of pain.

Muscle anatomy of the head and neck

3D figure with close up of face with muscle map

  • Muscles:

There are numerous muscles around your neck. These muscles help to stabilise and move your head and neck. Some of these muscles connect your head to your neck, your neck to your shoulder or your neck to lower parts of your back.

  • Ligaments:

There are also numerous ligaments in your neck. They connect each joint in your neck and provide stability to these joints.

On top of the neck lies the head, which contains the brain. The main function of the cervical spine are to support the head and to allow movement in many directions.

The neck can move more freely due to the specially designed anatomy, compared to the rest of the spine. It give us freedom to do several activities but it can also be a source of pain due to over strain.

There are many causes that could lead to neck pain. Here are a few common causes that are all treatable with physiotherapy:

Common causes of neck pain:

  • Whiplash:

A whiplash injury happens when sudden jerking movements occur in the neck. Forward, backward or even sideways movements through acceleration and deceleration can cause ligament,muscle or nerve injuries. Symptoms of a whiplash injury includes swelling, stiffness, pain and pins and needles.

  • Degeneration of neck joints (Spondylosis):

Degeneration is the term used for describing the deterioration of the condition of a joint. It is something that happens to all people as they age. As we age, we tend to lose a bit of the flexibility we used to have. Often, if a certain joint is used a lot or even overused, it could lead to degeneration. Degeneration of neck joints often lead to neck stiffness, pain and headaches.

  • “Locked Neck”(or Wry neck):

A locked joint develops after a quick or sudden movement of your head or neck. People also describe that they ‘slept funny’ and woke up with a sore or stiff neck. This type of pain is usually caused either by a facet joint or disc in your neck and leads to stiffness and pain especially when trying to turn your neck. Often preventing you from turning any further.

  • Neck muscle spasms:

The muscles in your neck can be injured through overuse or through a muscle strain. Keeping your head in one position or doing a repetitive movement of your head can often lead to the muscles around your neck getting tired and overworked. You could also strain or “pull” a muscle through a sudden movement or accident. These situations lead to your muscles feeling tight and sore.

  • Disc injury:

A disc injury usually develops through a traumatic injury like whiplash or hitting your head through a fall, or through repetitive strain like keeping your head in a bent forward position for long hours. A disc injury can lead to irritation or compression of one of the nerves close to the joint. Often, it leads to symptoms referring to your shoulder blade or arm.

  • Pinched nerve:

This happens when one or more of the nerves coming from the spinal cord in your neck are irritated or ‘pinched’. Nerve irritation or compression usually happens due to inflammation, a disc compressing on the nerve or degeneration of joints in your neck. Nerve pain usually feels quite sharp or ‘electric’ and can be accompanied by symptoms like pins and needles and numbness and weakness of certain areas of your arm and hand.

Headaches, shoulder pain and thoracic (middle or lower parts of your back) pain can also cause referred pain into your neck area. Your physiotherapist will always check these areas too, to make sure that the pain does not refer from another area.

Now that you have a clearer understanding of where your neck pain come from let’s see how you can treat your neck.

Things that YOU could do to improve your neck pain:

Bad Posture Positions

Bad Posture Positions

  • 1. Posture:

Look at your posture with activities you do during the day. How do you feel about your posture at work? Spending long periods of time in one position puts a lot of strain on your neck, so it is a very good idea to look at your work station setup.

  • 2. Sleeping Position:

Sleep with your head in a neutral and comfortable position. You might have to look at the pillow you are sleeping on, or change some of the positions you are sleeping in.

  • 3. De-stressing Techniques:

Stress, anxiety and depression are things we all experience at one stage or another. It has been proven that pain and feelings of depression, fear, anxiety and stress are closely linked. You might have to take a step back and think of ways you can work on these feelings. It has also been proven that techniques like deep breathing, meditation or exercise can improve your mood, assist with relaxation and improve pain.

Exercise regularly

  • 4. Exercise:

A healthy exercise routine is the best solution for management of pain. Choose and exercise that you enjoy doing. Try to do it for at least 30minutes, 3 times a week. Please subscribe our Youtube channel for specific neck exercises.

  • 5. Physiotherapy Treatment:

Physiotherapy can ease neck pain quickly. Physiotherapists are trained to look at you neck pain in a holistic manner. They can give you a diagnosis, treat the structures involved and give you specific exercises to help your neck pain.

When should I see a physiotherapist?

A physiotherapist will be able to help you with neck pain that started recently or chronic neck pain. Neck pain can be experienced with or without injury/trauma and in any of these cases a physiotherapist will be able to do an evaluation, give a diagnosis, look at the severity of your symptoms and help you decide on the right treatment or refer you if necessary.

Symptoms that could be dangerous:

  • Severe pain at night
  • Pain that does not improve with movement, medication, rest or change of position
  • Pins and needles (tingling), numbness and weakness in both arms or hands
  • Recent unplanned weight-loss
  • Pain spreading to your left arm accompanied by tightness of your chest, chest pain or shortness of breath
  • Neck pain and stiffness accompanied by fever, headaches, sensitivity to light and general body pain
  • Pain or difficulty in breathing, swallowing or speaking
  • Severe dizziness, nausea, double vision or tingling of your tongue when you turn your head to look over your shoulder

If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned in this list, the physiotherapist will help by referring you to the right place where you will get help.

How can physiotherapy help for neck pain?

Physiotherapy will help to get you back to your normal functional routine. Physiotherapists are really good at identifying which factors are contributing to or causing your neck pain.  Soft tissue massage, electrotherapy, manual therapy, dry needling, strapping and exercise are some of the techniques that physiotherapists use to treat neck pain. All the conditions discussed in this article can be evaluated and treated by a physiotherapist.

Why should you choose to get treatment at Just Physio?

At Just Physio we have physiotherapists that are expertly trained with many years of experience. We look at patients from a holistic point of view and try to address all the different factors that could contribute to your pain. Approaches like the McKenzie method, Mulligan and Maitland techniques are all techniques that our physiotherapists are trained in and familiar with. We have enough knowledge and experience to treat your acute or chronic neck pain.

Call us today to book your appointment!

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Written By: Nina Myburg