Most people will have a minor neck problem at one time or another. Our body movements usually do not cause problems, but it's not surprising that symptoms develop from everyday wear and tear, overuse, or injury. Neck problems and injuries most commonly occur during sports or recreational activities, work-related tasks, or projects around the home.
Neck pain may feel like a "kink," stiffness, or severe pain. Pain may spread to the shoulders, upper back, or arms, or it may cause a headache. Neck movement may be limited, usually more to one side than the other. Neck pain refers to pain anywhere from the area at the base of the skull into the shoulders. The neck includes:
- The bones and joints of the cervical spine (vertebrae of the neck).
- The discs that separate the cervical vertebrae and absorb shock as you move.
- The muscles and ligaments in the neck that hold the cervical spine together.
Neck pain may be caused by an injury to one or more of these areas, or it may have another cause. Home treatment will often help relieve neck pain caused by minor injuries.
Neck pain is often caused by a strain or spasm of the neck muscles or inflammation of the neck joints. Examples of common activities that may cause this type of minor injury include:
- Holding your head in a forward posture or odd position while working, watching TV, or reading.
- Sleeping on a pillow that is too high or too flat or that doesn't support your head, or sleeping on your stomach with your neck twisted or bent.
- Spending long periods of time resting your forehead on your upright fist or arm ("thinker's pose").
- Stress. Tension may make the muscles that run from the back of the head across the back of the shoulder (trapezius muscle) feel tight and painful.
- Work or exercise that uses your upper body and arms.
Minor neck injuries may result from tripping, falling a short distance, or excessive twisting of the spine. Severe neck injuries may result from whiplash in a car accident, falls from significant heights, direct blows to the back or the top of the head, sports-related injuries, a penetrating injury such as a stab wound, or external pressure applied to the neck, such as strangulation.