Neck pain comes in two forms, chronic or acute. Chronic neck pain comes is when you experience constant neck pain and stiffness. There are many causes, such as arthritis, postural imbalances, and unhealed trauma or injury.
Acute neck pain usually only lasts 3- 6 months, but can often last only a few days or weeks. Causes of acute neck pain are minor injuries, neck pain from improper support during sleep, and even minor illness, such as a cold or the flu.
Most of the time, neck pain will come in the acute form and will heal within a few days with a little rest and care. Other times, it may take a bit of work and a few weeks to feel better.
If you suffer from constant neck pain and stiffness, however, it may seem like an impossible task to overcome. And the truth is that a lot of Americans suffer from some form of chronic neck discomfort. In fact, it’s estimated that around 10-20 percent of Americans report neck pain, putting it in the top 5 most common disorders in the US.
And as mentioned, there are a lot of factors that can influence severe neck pain, such as ergonomics at home and in the office, what types of movement you do and how often you do it, and past injuries.
Causes of Neck Pain
According to the Mayo Clinic, the following can cause or influence neck pain:
- Carrying a heavy backpack or purse on one shoulder
- Cervical dystonia (spasmodic torticollis)
- Cervical spondylosis
- Cradling your phone between your shoulder and neck
- Emotional stress
- Herniated disk
- Muscle strain
- Osteoarthritis (disease causing the breakdown of joints)
- Poor posture
- Rheumatoid arthritis (inflammatory joint disease)
- Sleeping on your abdomen or with too many or too few pillows
- Spinal stenosis
- Tension headache
- TMJ disorders
- Trauma from accidents or falls
- Whiplash from a car accident
As you may have noticed, some of these incidents are fairly minor, such as carrying a heavy backpack or purse, while some of them are major, such as whiplash.
If you think you may be suffering from a major complication, you shouldn’t hesitate to call your doctor. When dealing with the health of your neck, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
However, below we’ll cover some of the sure signs you should see your doctor and some of the things you can do to relieve your sore neck.
How to Relieve a Stiff Neck
If your neck is a bit stiff and sore but you don’t think anything is majorly wrong, you can try some of the following:
When to See a Doctor
If you’ve tried some of the above or are experiencing a lot of discomfort, you may be wondering when to pick up the phone and call your doctor.
As mentioned, you’re much better off seeing the doctor than not, so if you think you could have a problem, give them a call.
That being said, there are some general symptoms you can look for that are signs of a serious problem.
If your neck pain or stiffness is getting worse, you may have a deeper problem. Of course, if you haven’t tried any of the treatments listed above, your neck may just be calling out for some tender love and care.
If you’ve tried some neck treatments and the symptoms still seem to be getting worse, call your doctor.
For most cases of neck pain, anything over a few weeks is too long. Again, this comes with the caveat that if you’re not doing anything to treat your neck pain, it probably won’t go away.
In some cases, your neck pain may greatly subside, but a slight bit of discomfort will linger and persist. This may be a sign of an issue in the bones, tendons, or at the deepest layer of muscle and tissue.
If your neck pain is lingering for longer than a few weeks and doesn’t seem to be going away, that could be a sign to pick up the phone.
The Pain Spreads
If the pain starts in your neck and begins spreading to other parts of the body, the arms, shoulders, and upper back for example, then it might be a sign of a chronic problem.
This is also true if you begin feeling tingles, pins and needles, or “electric shocks” in your legs. This can be a sign of sciatica or other nerve-related condition.
If it’s just minor pins and needles or tingles, it may just be part of the healing process. However, if it persists, call your doctor.
The Pain is Seriously Affecting Your Life
Sometimes, neck pain can be so painful that it becomes debilitating. For example, extreme neck pain could prevent a person from working a physically-demanding job or even prevent them from sitting at a desk due to lack of neck movement.
Other common complaints with neck pain are trouble sleeping. Sleep is one of the most important factors in living a healthy life. If neck pain is affecting your sleep, give your doctor a call to see what solutions are right for you.
You’re Over 50
As we age, aches and pains increase. Some aches and pains we expect, but others can signal serious problems.
If you’re over 50 and are experiencing persistent neck pain, make an appointment to see your doctor. This is because the older we get, the longer it takes to heal, so it’s important to start treatment as soon as possible.
In addition, those over 50 are at an increased risk of falling. Though it may not seem like it, neck pain can be a sign of a muscle imbalance, which could alter your walking gait and your ability to balance, increasing your risk of falling and getting injured.
When to Seek Emergency Care
In addition to the times, you should make an appointment with your doctor, there are times when you should seek immediate emergency care.
This is especially important with neck injuries because getting immediate care could be the difference between a working neck and one that plagues you with a lifetime of discomfort.
Of course, it’s never too late to start preventing neck injuries. We’ll cover some great ways to do that in the last section.
Here are some signs you should seek emergency care.
Headache, Numbness, or Forgetfulness
If you’re experiencing neck pain alongside other mental issues, such as forgetfulness or headaches, it may be a sign of a concussion or problem with your spine.
This is especially true if your neck stiffness was caused by an injury or trauma, such as a fall or car crash.
Sometimes these can just be short-term effects, but if they are a sign of something more serious, the sooner you get treatment the better.
When it comes to the health of your neck, head, and brain, you definitely don’t want to take any chances. If you’re experiencing any sign of a headache, numbness, or forgetfulness with neck pain, call the doctor or go to emergency care immediately.
Fall, Car Crash, or Traumatic Injury
You may have recently been involved in a traumatic injury, such as a fall or a car crash. If this is the case, you should definitely go seek immediate care.
This is because there are times when serious medical problems aren’t felt right away. In fact, sometimes people get minor neck fractures and don’t know for months.
This can cause a ton of pain and discomfort. If you seek immediate care, the doctor can take x-rays or run any necessary tests.
It doesn’t have to be a car crash to warrant a hospital visit. Skateboard crashes, sports collisions, and minor slips can all be bad news if neck pain shows up.
Again, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
In some cases, you may experience neck pain alongside a high fever. Sometimes, this is just a normal cold or the flu.
In other cases, however, it can be something much more serious. This is because the dangerous condition meningitis can cause neck pain along with a fever.
According to Wikipedia, “Meningitis is an acute inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, known collectively as the meninges. The most common symptoms are fever, headache, and neck stiffness.”
Meningitis is usually caused by a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection, although it can sometimes be caused by the use of certain drugs.
Meningitis is extremely dangerous and can result in death, so any signs of meningitis should be treated with a quick trip to emergency care.
Meningitis is treated with a variety of antibiotic and antiviral drugs and corticosteroids, when necessary. The corticosteroids help keep down inflammation, which is associated with some of the complications of meningitis.
How to Treat Chronic Neck Pain
If you’re wondering how to treat chronic neck pain, the first step is to go talk to your doctor. They can give you advice specifically pertaining to your condition.
The treatments may include physical therapy, medication, rest, and more. In other cases, your doctor may just suggest using a new pillow or working on your posture.
However, there are some things that generally help improve chronic neck pain. For example, exercise and movement, as long as it’s comfortable and not painful, is necessary to keep your neck healthy and mobile.
Eating healthy foods and reducing forms of stress will also reduce chronic neck pain and associated symptoms.
In addition, there’s a scientifically backed method that is extremely easy to use right from your own home.
Cervical traction is a simple procedure that brings both fast and effective long-term relief for those suffering from acute or chronic neck pain and stiffness.
Of course, the more serious your condition, the longer it will take to see results. The good thing about cervical traction is that it can easily be done multiple times a day for maximum relief.
One study that explored the effectiveness of cervical traction to treat neck pain concluded: “The results indicated that patients who received ICT [Intermittent Cervical Traction] for neck pain had significantly lower pain scores than those receiving placebos did immediately after treatment.”
In other words, cervical traction is a proven cure for a stiff neck to give fast-acting relief.
Try cervical traction with The Neck Hammock, an easy to use cervical traction device designed to attach to a pole, rod, or doorknob.
Ask your doctor about the effectiveness of cervical traction or continue reading to learn more.