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Neck Pain, Cervical Pain

neck pain treatmentNeck pain is very common and most people have one or more episodes of neck pain at some point in their life. The pain usually resolves within a few days or weeks, and serious or permanent damage is rare. Disc problems and trapped nerves are very uncommon as the cause of typical everyday neck pain.

Physiotherapy has an important part to play in the management of your neck pain. See your physio for assessment, treatment and an exercise programme. Manipulation, acupuncture and other treatments are available to physiotherapists to help treat your neck pain.

Understanding Your Neck

Your spine is a very strong part of your body and consists of the solid, bony vertebrae stacked up on top of each other in a jointed column. Strong and flexible discs join the vertebrae together into a powerful and mobile structure. Ligaments bind the bones together safely and the neck has large, strong muscles which move and stabilize it.

A neck strain is the commonest cause of neck pain which has a sudden onset. This is not serious and will settle within a short time. Even though it is often not clear in an individual’s case, most neck pain is thought to arise from soft tissue structures such as the facet joints, ligaments and muscles. Your neck is suffering from a temporary hiccup in its ability.

With your neck pain you can get other symptoms, such as arm pain, shoulder pain, chest pain, headache and pins and needles in the shoulder or arm. Many people think these problems are due to a trapped nerve but this diagnosis is uncommon and the symptoms are quite different. These extra symptoms usually settle as your neck pain does.

The exact diagnosis of your neck pain is not very important unless it is very severe or you are suffering from many other problems too. How you manage your neck pain is important and can make a difference to how quickly you recover and go back to normal.

Treatments for simple neck pain

It’s important to do the right things straight away in the early stages of your neck pain. The natural thing to do is rest but if you rest for more than a day or two it has been shown not to be helpful. Resting too much may prolong your pain and increases the risk of longer term disability.

Overall, movement is a good thing for your neck. Exercise moves your neck naturally, sending normal messages into the nervous system which help cut the pain. Exercise moves the muscles and joints, preventing stiffness and easing the uncomfortable structures.

Don’t wear a collar as this can prevent your neck moving and may increase disability. Get moving as soon as you can and get back to your normal activities ASAP. You’ll feel better if you get going early and get on with your life despite the pain

Managing Your Neck Pain

Even thought your neck may be painful, that’s not a good reason to stop doing everything and resting. You can do sensible things to help:

  • Simple neck exercises are the basic management strategy. Performing neck exercises regularly maintains the ranges of movement and can reduce the pain.
  • Reduce the stresses through your neck to allow the pain and inflammation to settle down. There’s no need to stop doing anything unless it really aggravates your pain badly. Find better ways of doing what you want.
  • Keep at work or return to work as soon as you can. Remaining at work is associated with quicker recovery.
  • Walking is a good activity with little stress on the neck. Get yourself out daily for at least 30 minutes brisk walk.
  • If you drive a car you may need to adjust the seat or back a little closer so you do not have to stretch your arms to the steering wheel. Take regular breaks from driving in a planned manner to avoid aggravating your neck.
  • Pace your activities so you do not spend too long in any one position. Make a decision about how long you are going to do something before you start. Then stick to the timing.
  • Adjust your desk/computer space if you have a desk-based job. Having a poor posture in office jobs is a common cause of neck and low back pain. Ask for an ergonomic assessment of your workspace and you may be eligible for alterations or new equipment.
  • Keep up your hobbies or fitness activities. You may need to reduce the intensity of what you do for a while. Go back to your normal levels as soon as you can.
  • If you have to move anything or carry a load, think of splitting the activity up into smaller amounts and make more journeys to complete the task.
  • Sleeping can be very difficult with neck pain. You will have to experiment to find the right size and firmness of pillow to suit your neck.
  • Painkillers are useful for pain control which can get you going on your exercises and on the road back to normality. You can get the most useful groups of painkillers without prescription from a pharmacy. Always take medical advice if you have any medical conditions, take other medications or have any allergies to medication.

Pain Killing Medication

  • Paracetamol is a very useful basic painkiller. The maximum dose for an adult is 4 grams a days, which consists of two tablets four times a day.
  • An anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen can be added to the above, take the advice of your pharmacist as to the dose. People with asthma, stomach problems, high blood pressure, kidney or heart failure should take medical advice as to whether these drugs are wise.
  • Codeine based painkillers can also be used if anti-inflammatories are not appropriate for you. Some codeine preparations include paracetamol, so check the ingredients on the labeling to avoid doubling up on a drug.

Do I Need To See A Doctor?

Most neck pain is not serious and settles with routine management and advice. If your neck pain is very severe and disabling, or if it gets worse over time rather than better, you should seek a doctor’s advice.

A doctor will be able to tell if you have uncomplicated neck pain and exclude serious causes for your condition. He or she will examine you and it is unlikely you will need an x-ray or a scan as these are not indicated for uncomplicated neck pain.

If you have any of these rare symptoms you should however consult a doctor right away:

  • Difficulty controlling your bladder or bowels
  • Poor balance or coordination, such as tripping or dragging your feet
  • Fainting or feeling dizzy
  • Difficulty using your arms normally or in a coordinated fashion
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing

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