Neck Pain – what causes it?
Your head is heavy and balanced on a narrow support made up of seven bones called vertebrae. The vertebrae are separated from each other by discs stabilised by joints and ligaments and moved by muscles. Because the neck is so mobile it is easily damaged. Injury and postural problems are the most common causes of neck pain. Diseases such as arthritis or degeneration of the discs can also cause pain. A disorder of the neck joints or muscles can cause referral pain to your head, shoulders, arms and upper back.
Neck injuries most often result from motor vehicle accidents, sports or occupational accidents. Damage may occur to vertebrae, joints and nerves, discs, ligaments and muscles. A common neck injury is the acceleration/deceleration injury or ‘whiplash’ where the head is thrown forward or back.
Bad posture can cause neck pain. Ligaments are over-stretched, muscles become tired and the neck joints and nerves are put under pressure. Slouching your shoulders with your head pushed forward, sleeping with your head in an awkward position, or working with your head down for long periods, will all tend to cause neck pain.
Preventing neck pain
Here is some useful advice to help you prevent neck pain.
Think Tall: chest lifted, shoulders relaxed, chin tucked in and head level. Your neck should feel strong, straight and relaxed.
A down pillow or urethane pillow is best for most people. Avoid sleeping on your stomach.
Recognise when you are tense. You may be hunching your shoulders or clenching your teeth without realising it.
How physiotherapists can help
Physiotherapists will be able to determine the source of your neck pain and treat it. They may use:
- remedial exercise
- postural assessment, correction and advice
- relaxation therapy
Manipulation can be an effective treatment for neck problems, but it may not be the best option in every situation. Other methods, such as mobilisation, may be preferable. Your physiotherapist will carefully check your neck and discuss the options with you before any form of treatment takes place.