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A pain in the neck

                                        December 2010  

A pain in the neck!

Pain in the neckNecks are one of those bits of our bodies that we never really think about until things go wrong. This is so unfair because when you think of the weight a neck carries every day and the stresses it undergoes as it turns and tilts your head and keeps it upright for hours on end, it is clear this really is a remarkable piece of equipment!

If you have an accident involving your neck, such as whiplash in a car accident, then obviously that is a clear cause of neck pain and medical professionals will be able to give advice and hopefully treatment. There are also other types of neck pain which can be indicative of severe and urgent problems and you should seek medical advice immediately. This includes neck pain that is accompanied by a headache; if there is also pain behind one eye; if your vision, hearing or balance is affected; if you vomit or if the muscle power in your arms or legs is reduced.

However, most neck pain comes under a more general category. The pain can be in the neck area with some associated stiffness; it may radiate down the shoulder or between the shoulder blades; it can also radiate out into the arm, the hand or up into the head.

This type of neck pain can be caused by a range of problems such as muscle spasm, rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory joint disease or even fibromyalgia, a severe condition that affects muscles and tendons.

It is easier to understand what can cause neck pain if you know a bit about how the neck is made up. The neck, or the cervical vertebrae, is made up of seven vertebrae, or bony building blocks of the spine. These surround the spinal cord and canal. Between each vertebrae are discs, and just at the side of these pass the nerves of the neck. Within the neck there are also muscles, arteries, veins, lymph glands, thyroid and parathyroid glands plus the esophagus, larynx and trachea. Problems with any of these can result in neck pain.

Neck pain is a common ailment but it is still important to get medical advice. Doctors will run through a number of checks, including testing the movement of the neck; testing it for trapped nerves; and examining the movement of the joints of the spine, neck and hands. In some cases, x-rays, CAT or MRI scans, EMG testing and even blood tests may be necessary to make a proper diagnosis.

Sometimes neck pain disappears without treatment. If for instance you wake after having slept with your head in a funny position; any resulting neck pain is most likely to simply disappear after a short time. In other cases, doctors may recommend a variety of treatments depending on the assessed cause. For general neck pain where no exact medical problem has been diagnosed, they often recommend chiropractic or physiotherapy treatment and pain relieving medication is usually also a good idea when the pain is constant. Sometimes a muscle relaxant (e.g. diazepam) is prescribed on a short term basis.

Some people have naturally weak neck muscles and this makes them prone to neck problems. Here, an exercise programme is sometimes recommended to strengthen the neck.

The good news is that for neck pain, the prognosis is usually good.


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