The human neck is made up of vertebrae that extend from the skull right up till the upper torso. These cervical discs absorb shock that can occur between the bones. The ligaments, bones and muscles of the neck support the head and allow its motion. Neck pain relief will depend on the type of stiffness and neck pain can be caused by any inflammation, abnormalities, or injury.
People experience neck pain or stiffness at different occasions. The most common cause of neck stiffness and neck pain is a bad, poor posture that eliminates lumbar support. Neck pain can also be caused due to an injury, a fall etc. that can occur during high impact physical activity.
Most neck pains and stiffness are not a serious conditions, but if not treated and prevented, they can become chronic. Most of these can be fixed within days with effective neck pain relief medications and remedies, but sometimes neck pains and stiffness point towards a serious illness, injury or disorder and may require immediate medical care. Neck pain and stiffness that lasts for more than a week should be or is very severe should be treated by a doctor as a medical emergency.
Causes of neck pain
There can be a number of reasons that cause neck pain and stiffness.
Muscle strain and tension
Activities and behaviors given below cause muscle strain and tension:
- poor posture
- working at a desk for too long with no changing position
- jerking the neck during exercise
- Wrong sleep posture especially the neck region.
- health conditions like heart attack, meningitis or fibromyalgia
A doctor usually performs a physical examination and takes into account the patient’s complete medical history. The doctor should be aware of all the symptoms and any prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications and supplements that have been consumed for providing effective neck pain relief treatment. Any recent accidents or injuries should also be mentioned.
The treatment for neck pain relief depends on the diagnosis. Apart from taking the thorough medical history and physical exam, a doctor may also recommend some imaging tests to determine the cause of the pain in greater detail:
- Blood tests
- MRI scans
- CT scans
- Lumbar puncture or spinal tap
- Electromyography to be performed to test the muscle health and the nerves controlling the said muscles.
On the basis of the results, a doctor can refer the patient to a specialist for advanced treatment.
Common treatment for neck pain:
- Antibiotics for infection
- Muscle relaxants
- Hospital treatment for associated heart conditions like fibromyalgia, heart attacks or meningitis
- Ice therapy
- Heat therapy
- Pain medication
- Neck collar
- Corticosteroid injections
Alternative therapies for neck pain include:
- chiropractic treatment
- transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation
Easing neck pain at home
Minor neck pain relief due to neck stiffness can be fixed at home by following some simple steps:
- OTC pain relievers
- Icing for first few days
- Following icing with heat pads and heating or hot compress
- Avoiding activities that aggravate pain like physical exercise or sports
- Maintaining a good posture
- Using a special neck pillow to support the neck while sleeping
- Exercising the neck slowly every day to promote healing
- Not cradling the phone between the neck and shoulder
- Massaging the neck gently
It is a common habit to crack joints for neck pain relief and many people do it. They crack knuckles, fingers, backs, toes and necks. Some do it to release the pressure in the shoulder and neck while other do it as a reaction to stress, or simply out of habit.
There are very few benefits to cracking one’s neck to fix stiffness or pain. Gently cracking neck or cracking it occasionally is okay, but doing it too often or in an incorrect manner can be extremely damaging or harmful for the health. Using too much force too can cause more pain and discomfort that before cracking the neck.
The potential risks that occur on cracking neck, the things that can happen on cracking one’s own neck and seeking all depend on the severity of the situation.
Cracking the neck can be harmful if not done correctly or if it is done too often. Forceful cracking of the neck can pinch the nerves present in the neck. Pinching a nerve can be an extremely painful condition and can make it difficult or impossible to move the neck. Cracking the neck too hard may also strain the muscles around the joints and the joints. Strained joints and muscles or joints can create unbearable pain.
Hypermobility is one condition that causes a person to crack their necks too often. When a joint has a larger range of motion than normal, this condition becomes apparent. Giving into the urge to crack the neck a lot can cause the ligaments in the joints can get stretched permanently, which is a condition known as perpetual instability. Neck joints are exposed to a greater risk of developing osteoarthritis because of this.