Though less common than back pain, neck pain affects an estimated 45 percent of adults in the U.S. There are different classifications and causes of neck pain, and in some cases, neck pain can be preventable. Neck pain is generally classified as either acute pain or chronic pain.
Acute neck pain: Episodes of neck pain due to a muscle strain or soft tissue sprain caused by an injury, such as whiplash from a car accident or neck strain from sleeping in the wrong position.
Chronic neck pain: Long-lasting pain in the neck over a period of time. Common causes of chronic neck pain include herniated disc, pinched nerve or certain activities or bodily positions.
In most cases, neck pain won’t require surgical intervention and will improve over time with exercises, medication and chiropractic care. In some severe cases, surgery may be the only means of eliminating pain in the neck due to an injury or chronic condition. Causes of neck pain that may require surgery include: cervical stenosis (narrowing of the cervical disc space), cervical arthritis, degenerative disc disease and herniated disc.
Tips to prevent neck pain
Correcting posture and movements can prevent chronic neck pain caused by poor posture or body mechanics. Here are a few tips to help reduce or prevent neck pain that may be caused by your daily activities, such as sitting at a computer or sleeping.
• Avoid slouching. Think about keeping your head, neck and spine in one straight, upright line.
• Sit straight in your chair with your lower back supported.
• Keep your feet flat on the floor.
• Shoulders should be down and relaxed.
• Adjust your computer so the monitor is at eye level.
• When talking on the phone, use a headset or speakerphone rather than cradling the phone on your shoulder.
• Take at least one break every hour to get up, change position and stretch your neck muscles.
• Stretch your neck muscles regularly by doing small head rolls and tilting your head from one side to the other, as well as forward and backward.
• Use a neck support pillow when sleeping.
• If you like to read in bed, position yourself with pillows to keep your neck in a neutral position.
• Reduce stress with relaxation techniques, exercise and/or massage.
• Perform neck exercises daily to strengthen and protect your neck.
• Maintain a healthy body weight.
Treatment for neck pain
Acute neck pain may be treated with heat or ice applied at home, over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers, massage therapy, chiropractic manipulation and stretching. Your doctor may recommend a wearing a neck brace for a few days to help reduce acute pain from an injury.
Chronic neck pain may be treated with some of the remedies listed above. However, in some cases, surgery is required to address the specific conditions causing pain in the neck.
If you are suffering from neck pain, whether acute or chronic, be sure to mention it to your healthcare provider. Although common, neck pain is not something you should have to just “deal with,” as it can easily affect your day-to-day life.