5 Causes of Neck Pain

Neck pain is incredibly common. Somewhere between 16% to 75% of the world’s population experience neck pain at some point in their lives, and it ranks among the top five disorders in the US, with about 10-20% of the population affected. Most treat their pain with rest, immobilization (braces or splints), or physical therapy and exercise, but, sometimes you need a more aggressive approach only a doctor can give.

Here at The Spine & Pain Center of California in Pleasanton and Fremont, California, Dr. Navin Mallavaram and our highly trained staff are specialists in treating neck pain, both acute and chronic, and no matter what the cause. To help our patients understand their pain, we’ve put together this fact sheet about five of the main causes of neck pain. First, though, we need to address the structure of the spine, as it underlies the problems we’ll be discussing.

What is the spine, and what does it do?

Your spine is literally your backbone; it’s a long, flexible column that extends from the base of your skull down to your sacrum and helps provide support for your body to stay upright. It’s composed of bony vertebrae, each attached to an arch of bone that forms a continuous hollow tube from top to bottom. The space inside is referred to as the spinal canal, which contains your spinal cord and other nerve bundles.

Between each vertebra is a soft, cushioning disc that allows the joint to move easily and \ acts as a shock absorber for stress and strain during activity.

Each vertebra contains two small openings called foramina, through which a pair of spinal nerves leave the canal space — one going to the left and one to the right. These nerves run throughout your body, providing both sensation and movement, and are additionally supported by strong ligaments and muscles attached to the vertebrae.

The neck region, also called the cervical spine, contains the top seven bones of the vertebral column. These vertebrae are labeled C1-C7. In addition to aiding movement and sensation, this region helps support the weight of your head.

What causes neck pain?

Neck pain occurs when anything impacts or impinges upon the cervical spine’s components. The causes can be as wide-ranging as muscle strains, herniated discs, or disease. The following are five of the most common causes of neck pain.

1. Muscle strains

The human head weighs 10-11 pounds in a neutral position, which means your muscles and ligaments have a heavy weight to bear to keep you upright throughout the day, and it’s very easy to strain one or more of them.

One of the most common muscle strains is referred to as “tech neck,” the act of hunching your shoulders and tilting your head forward in order to look at a computer screen or a smartphone. As you tilt your head, you increase the force on your neck. At a forward 45-degree tilt, the force increases so your head feels like it’s 49 pounds. At a 60-degree tilt — imagine chin to chest — it’s a whopping 60 pounds.

2. Worn joints

The neck joints endure wear-and-tear just like any other joint in your body, and that means they’re at risk for osteoarthritis (OA), a degenerative joint disease and the most common form of arthritis. In OA, the cartilage discs between the vertebrae deteriorate, and you get bone-on-bone grinding, which causes pain, inflammation and swelling, and a limited range of motion. The bones can also put pressure on the surrounding nerves, sending pain signals to the brain.

3. Nerve compression

When a disc bulges out from its normal position, or when bone spurs form on the cervical vertebrae, these can press on the nerves emerging from the spinal cord. This impingement causes a great deal of pain, as well as numbness and tingling in the peripheral regions through which the nerves pass.

4. Injuries

Neck injuries can come from playing sports or from any sudden, jerky movements. But by far the most common neck injuries come from rear-end car accidents that cause whiplash. Whiplash occurs when the head jerks back then forward, straining the soft tissues in your neck and causing a great deal of pain, bulging or herniated discs, and nerve impingement. Physical therapy is often necessary to return the neck components to their proper functions.

5. Disease

A number of different diseases can generate cervical pain, including degenerative disc disease, rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disorder that attacks the body’s own tissues), and meningitis.

Are you suffering from neck pain and don’t know which way to turn? The experts at The Spine & Pain Center of California can help diagnose your problem and get you the necessary treatment. Give us a call at 925-469-9120 for either of our locations or schedule an appointment online today.

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