Neck pain is only slightly less common than back pain. It is commonly the result of age, poor posture and sedentary lifestyles which result in weakness. Your neck is flexible and supports the “weight” of your head. The force exerted by your head on the neck depends on ‘posture’ or head and neck alignment. If you are standing or sitting straight your head “weighs”, 10 to 12 lbs. on average. But if your head tilts forward as when staring into a screen, the head is no longer in an ideal position and the head now ‘weighs’ closer to 60 lbs. This puts a tremendous strain on the muscles trying to support this considerable weight and results in muscular pain and stiffness. Poor posture and lack of proper exercise, over time, contribute to degenerative change in the bones and chronic weakness in muscles. Neck pain, like back pain, is also well known to be increased by stress and anxiety.
Neck pain can be one-sided or affect both sides of the neck. It typically radiates to the back or crown of the head or down into the shoulders or between the shoulder blades. It is generally described as dull and aching but can be sharp with turning the head to one side or tilting it forward or back. Stiffness and a loss of range of motion can result in difficulty backing a car out of parking spaces. It may be associated with headaches that usually begin at the base of the skull and rise up into the head often into the forehead and behind the eyes. Neck pain is often accompanied by cracking, popping, or grinding noises when turning the head that can be alarming to patients but are generally not serious.
Poor posture, growing older and inactivity are the main causes of neck pain. All three contribute to degenerative change in the cervical spine. With time these changes result in arthritis in the many small joints in the neck producing pain and stiffness. Symptoms tend to be worse when we are worried, tired, or at the end of the day. Any head position held for a long period of time such as when staring into a computer can cause symptoms. Neck trauma, especially ‘whiplash’ type injuries that are the result of falls or rear-end car accidents, can cause damage to ligaments, muscles, and joints of the neck.