Neck pain is one of the most common medical complaints among both women and men, and thanks to an increasing use of computers and mobile phones for just about any activity under the sun, those complaints are becoming more common. Lots of factors can contribute to neck pain, including spending hours hunched over electronics.
Sometimes, neck pain is a minor nuisance that can be remedied with a few lifestyle changes and maybe some gentle stretching. But other times, chronic neck pain can be a sign of a more serious issue that’s just not going to “clear up” on its own. Unless you’re a doctor, it can be difficult to tell when persistent neck pain is due to minor strain and when it’s being caused by a serious underlying problem that needs immediate care. Here’s why chronic neck pain shouldn’t be ignored and how the chiropractors at Premier Spine Institute can help you find welcome relief.
Most common causes of chronic neck pain
The most common causes of chronic neck pain are muscle strain and nerve compression. Depending on the symptoms you’re experiencing, it can be difficult to tell which of these is occurring. Most muscle strain comes from activities that place a lot of uneven strain on one side of your neck. Repetitive lifting is a common cause of muscle strain around the neck, especially if the loads are heavy or if you’re using one side of your body to tote heavy loads, like carrying a heavy bag over one shoulder. Sleeping in a weird position or having a pillow that doesn’t provide adequate support can also cause muscle strain in your neck.
Nerve compression occurs when one (or more) of the nerves around the neck gets pinched or pressed as it leaves your upper spine (called the cervical spine). When the nerves exit the cervical spine, they travel through your shoulders and down into your arms and hands. If a disc in your cervical spine slips out of place or if the tissues in your neck get swollen and inflamed, the nerves in that area can get squeezed. And that means you can have pain and other symptoms in your neck and anywhere along the path of that nerve.
Often, the earliest signs of nerve compression are similar to the symptoms experienced when you strain a muscle — that is, aching and pain around the neck, upper back, and shoulder region. And what’s even more confusing, nerve compression can be caused by a lot of the same things that cause muscle strain in your neck, like repetitive lifting for instance. Pinched nerves also commonly occur after slip-and-fall accidents, sports accidents or car accidents.
The serious consequences of delaying treatment
If you have a compressed nerve in your neck and you delay your treatment, you can wind up with shooting, electrical-like pain extending into your back and all the way down your arms. Over time, a pinched nerve can cause your muscles to become weak, and it can interfere with your ability to use your hands. Eventually, that damage can become permanent, which means delaying care could result in a lifetime of disability.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should ignore muscle strain either. When you strain a muscle, it can cause inflammation which can, in turn, presses on nerves. Or, you might wind up compensating for the strain by putting excess pressure on other areas of your neck and shoulders, which can also press on nerves. What does that mean? Even a seemingly minor muscle strain can wind up causing nerve compression, which can then cause serious and even permanent damage. The bottom line is pretty simple: Any type of chronic neck pain that goes on for days on end without relief needs to be seen and evaluated by a medical professional.
Find out what's causing your chronic neck pain
The best way to know what’s causing your chronic neck pain: Schedule an office visit so we can perform a thorough physical exam and evaluation. It’s the first step toward feeling better and preventing more serious problems.