The neck is a common area that people report to have soreness, tightness and/or pain that is sometimes tied to shoulder discomfort. The Task Force on Neck pain and Its Associated Disorders reports that up to 71.5% of the general population has neck pain within any given year, with between 15% and 19% experiencing chronic neck pain (Guez, Stegmayr). Of those that have had neck pain, up to 85% report to have neck pain again later in life.
One of the common causes of neck pain in the United States are injuries from motor vehicle accidents. In 2015, almost 6.3 million people were involved in motor vehicle accidents - this is nearly 3% of the driving-age population in one year! The CDC reported in 2014 that the average single ER cost for someone involved in motor vehicle accidents is $3,300 with an average hospitalization costs throughout their lifetime of $57,000!
The neck, or cervical region, is unique to the rest of the body and the spine. Not only is it able to move in many directions, it is also directly connected to your head and plays an important role in keeping your eyes
The cervical spine (neck) is saturated with neural structures that automatically set the surrounding muscle tone so your head is in the most optimal position possible. The weight of your brain and skull is about 10-11 pounds and your neck acts as a lever to place your head in space wherever it is best needed. However, the neck’s mobility can also be problematic in acute injuries because it can quickly move into such extreme positions (forward, backward, side-to-side), potentially damaging the cervical spine (neck), soft tissues (muscles, ligaments, tendons, vessels, discs, etc), spinal cord and accompanying nerves.
The nerves that exit the spinal column in the neck supply information to and from the neck itself and both arms for movement, sensation and healing.
The neck is also very important because the spinal cord leaves the brain via the brainstem and all of the information must travel through to the rest of the body for all other processes to take place. This includes healing, movement, and/or sensation to the heart, lung, bladder, and digestive system, immune system, and general healing, movement and sensation to the rest of the body!
Neck pain, and possibly the shoulder region may come on suddenly or gradually. There are a wide range of symptoms from mild and irritating to severe and incapacitating, all of which can be treated conservatively and successfully with physical therapy.
Some examples are:
Pain that is dull or achy, localized to one area of the neck
Pain that is burning or numb/tingling in nature that may travel into one or both of your arms
Weakness and/or atrophy in the neck or arms
Muscle spasms, stiffness or tightness in the neck, head or shoulder/upper torso area, possibly one-sided with limited range of motion (torticollis or pseudo-torticollis)
Headaches (cluster, tension, occipital, cervicogenic, exertion, posttraumatic, episodic, sinus, temporal, migraine, concussions)
Temporomandibular pain (TMJ) dysfunction associated with clicking and/or pain
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome pain, numbness and tingling
*If you are unable to move your neck after a severe trauma please seek emergency medical attention.
*If your hands feel like they are burning, please seek emergency medical attention. You may have injured your spinal cord and/or have a spinal fracture.
*If you have had a head trauma of any kind, have recently lost consciousness, especially if you do not seem “quite right,” are experiencing a headache, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and/or other emotional or behavioral manifestations (mood changes, depression, restlessness, aggression, emotional changes and apathy) please seek emergency medical attention to get the proper diagnostic imaging to evaluate for concussion and hematomas (bleeding) in the brain.
*If you are experiencing a difficulty or inability to swallow, please seek emergency medical attention as you may have a cranial nerve or central nervous system condition.
The muscles and ligaments may be inflamed, contracted and/or torn (sprain/strain). The intervertebral discs may be flattened and dehydrated, bulging or herniated, or inflamed. If there has been a history of trauma or injury (throughout your life), your body may intelligently stabilize the injured or surrounding area by laying down new bone in-front of, behind, or beside the original vertebra. Over time, this can irritate the tissues and become painful. Most people call this ‘degenerative arthritis.’ The facet joints (joints to the left and right of the main vertebral joint) may be inflamed or jammed. The area where the nerve exits the spinal column can be narrowed, misaligned and/or inflamed which further narrows the hole and can interfere with normal nerve activity.
Most successful cervical (or neck) at least begin with (or are completely resolved by) conservative treatments and therapies. Chiropractic, physical therapy, massage therapy, and acupuncture are among the top choices for resolving neck pain for most patients. The cost of these treatments are (commonly) significantly less than other treatment options such as surgery, prescription narcotics, and others.