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Neck problems - causes, therapies and home remedies

Neck problems - causes, therapies and home remedies



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Neck problems begin in the area of ​​the cervical vertebrae in the neck and are widespread among people of all ages. Because of its location and mobility, the neck often remains unprotected and therefore vulnerable. Acute neck pain can extend to the head, shoulders, arms and hands. The pain usually passes in days, or at least weeks, when those affected use self-help such as massages and rest. Patients report mild to severe headaches.

Women suffer from neck pain more often than men. They also report signs and symptoms more typical of this condition. This tendency applies to many types of pain, and a lot of sociological, cultural, and physical explanations try to explain it. So far, none of these theories has been able to assert itself as valid.

The smaller size as well as the lower strength in the shoulder muscles could biologically explain the stronger tendency of women to neck pain. For example, comparative studies show that women put more strain on their muscles when they put pressure on the computer mouse.

Types of neck pain

This pain can be as mild as it is severe, and as acute as it is chronic. Acute pain suddenly arises as a result of an injury or stress. Most of the time, he lays down after 7-10 days at the latest, when those affected have rest and put ice on the painful region.

If neck problems last longer than a few weeks, an examination by a doctor is pending. He uses X-rays to identify whether there are internal injuries and usually starts conservative therapy. This includes, for example, medications that inhibit inflammation, fight pain, body therapy such as massages or acupuncture.

Chronic neck pain lasts longer than 3 months; those affected can suffer day and night, or the symptoms worsen with certain actions. The exact causes are often difficult to find, but general factors that trigger agony are nerve damage, arthritis or the effects of emotional crises. If you suffer from chronic symptoms, you should see a pain specialist.

The most common pain in the neck

1) Muscle pain: The muscles in the neck and shoulder can hurt if we strain them too much - as well as if we suffer from stress, both physically and emotionally. The neck muscles can form hard knots that react sensitively to touch - the so-called trigger points.

2) Muscle spasms: Here the muscles suddenly tighten. This can hurt the neck, the muscles feel “knotted” and often it is not possible to turn the head. When someone wakes up with a stiff neck, they are likely to have a muscle cramp. The cause can be an injury, but also a nervous problem or even psychological stress. However, there is often no clear cause.

3) Headache: Headache as a result of neck complaints is usually rampant on the back of the head and upper neck and usually results from a muscle spasm. This pain is usually numb instead of sharp; the neck may also feel stiff or sensitive and will get worse if the person moves the neck.

Pain in the facet joints is sharp and gets worse if the patient turns his head towards the corresponding side. Arthritis in the facet joints feels worse in the morning and after a period of rest.

Nerve pain: pinching the back nerves causes pain that feels like pinpricks. The pain can extend to the arms, depending on which nerve is affected.

Relocated pain: This refers to pain in one part of the body that originates in another. Such pain in the neck, for example, stems from a heart problem, while an aching neck when eating indicates discomfort in the esophagus.

Bone pain: Pain in the cervical vertebrae is much less common than in the soft tissue. They belong under the supervision of a doctor because they can indicate a serious illness.

Anatomy of the neck

The neck is one of the most flexible regions of the back; it consists of vertebrae, seven intervertebral discs that absorb shocks, muscles and ligaments that hold the vertebrae in place. The top intervertebral disc connects the spine to the base of the skull.

The spinal cord, which sends nerve impulses to every part of the body, runs through a channel into the cervical vertebrae and through the spine. The cervical nerves reproduce in the arms, and therefore pain in the arms often indicates discomfort in the neck.

Causes of neck problems

The neck supports the weight of the head, which can be 4.5 kg. Although the head should be centered over the spine when we are sitting or standing upright, countless actions result in us stretching out our heads to round our necks - sitting in front of the computer, reading, watching TV or eating.

This can lead to muscle tension - or strains. Eyeglass wearers who constantly look over or under the glasses take this risk as well as harmful positions when sleeping or long car trips can be the cause.

Everyday clothing and age wear can change the intervertebral discs so that a stiff neck follows. Pinching the discs between the vertebrae in the neck narrows the space for the nerves that go out of the spinal canal. Those affected feel a pinch in their nerves and persistent pain.

Bone growths of the vertebrae, the osteophytes, can also pinch the nerves. Spinal stenoses put pressure on the spinal cord and cause not only pain, but even paralysis. They narrow the small nerve pathways in the vertebrae and thereby compress the nerve roots.

Stenosis causes pain in the neck, shoulders and arms and also a feeling of numbness when the affected nerves no longer function normally. Intervertebral disc damage, osteophytes and spinal stenoses are only rarely responsible for complaints of the neck. Typical triggers are muscle spasms and strains.

Injuries and accidents also cause neck problems. If the neck moves abruptly in one direction and jumps harshly back into the opposite, we speak of whiplash.

This injures tissue in the neck and head. The muscles tighten and contract, there is muscle exhaustion, which in turn shows up as a stiff neck that hurts a lot.

Serious whiplash also damages the joints between the cervical vertebrae, the intervertebral discs, muscles and nerve roots. The main cause of such trauma are car accidents: as a result of the collision, the heads of those affected first hit the headrests with a jerk and then fling forward again.

In addition to neck pain, whiplash and headaches are typical for whiplash, but also dizziness, nausea, sweating and visual disturbances.

Whiplash is difficult to detect, however, because the fine injuries to the cervical vertebrae can hardly be detected with X-rays. The medical diagnosis is therefore primarily based on evidence: How did the accident go? What happened to the heads of those affected? What pain occurred when? How do the complaints express themselves in detail?

Fear on the neck

The main cause of neck pain is tension. Stress factors, worry and fear all produce muscle tension - especially in the shoulders, back and neck. The more anxious the experience, the more tension can cause pain and discomfort.

In many people, the neck muscles contract in times of stress. But people in fear feel this more intensely and focus on it. Anxious people have a natural tendency to fixate on negative sensations, so the same neck pain feels worse than someone without this fear - even if the pain is objectively the same.

We all know mild to moderate neck complaints, even without increased anxiety or health problems, for example because we sit in the chair all day, sleep in unfavorable positions, look down too often and do not stretch.

People without exaggerated fear mostly perceive these symptoms as normal - an experience they often have in life. Anxious people, especially those who are anxious with panic attacks, are usually sensitive to physical sensations and unable to concentrate on anything other than pain. The amount of mental energy they invest in their pain experience can increase pain - and that in turn increases fear.

Anxiety, confusion, and depression are common when someone is in pain and reduce well-being. That is why anti-depressants are a good method against neck complaints.

Doctors usually prescribe anti-depressants for neck pain in lower doses than for depression.

Home remedies for neck problems

For some people, ice cream reduces the discomfort. It can be placed directly on the affected area. Ice can be frozen in a paper cup. The ice should move continuously on the neck muscles, from five to seven minutes.

However, excessive use of ice can damage the skin, especially in people whose skin is very sensitive.

Not only cold, but also heat helps to relieve muscle pain. Sufferers can expose the painful area to moderate heat for 10 to 15 minutes, be it in the shower, a hot bath, or with a damp towel that they heat in the microwave.

However, acute injuries should be treated with ice first. Heat especially helps people who are cold intolerant.

Massage helps relieve muscle spasms and is best done after warming or cooling the neck. We massage with our hands and apply pressure to both sides of the neck and upper back - or we use an electric vibrator that we hold in our hands. We should relax the neck muscles during the massage, either by supporting the head or by lying down

A bath with bath salts can reduce muscle pain and stress. Magnesium sulfate in the salt relaxes the muscles and relieves swelling such as pain.

Ginger tea with honey boosts blood flow in the affected area of ​​the body. This helps against both pain and inflammation.

The freedom of movement of the neck must be restored after an injury; this is done with exercises that stretch and strengthen the muscles. Such exercises also reduce pain after an injury to the muscles. It is best to stretch the muscles when they are warm, for example after a bath or after a few minutes of warm-up gymnastics.

Body therapy

Body therapists can help patients reduce pain and restore mobility - without expensive surgery or the side effects of medication.

Body therapy always begins with a history of the course of the disease. The therapist records circumstances such as age, general health and lifestyle. If a trauma or illness plays a role, body therapists work with the appropriate doctors.

After diagnosis, the therapist chooses a range of methods to treat the pain - including exercises to improve flexibility, strength, stability and freedom of movement.

Other options include ice, heat, electrical stimulation, and massage. The body therapist also analyzes the situation in the home and workplace of those affected and finds out which stresses have their origin here.

Low-level aerobic exercise, swimming, hiking, and biking also help alleviate neck problems.

Acupuncture for neck pain

Acupuncture also helps relieve pain. For this purpose, small needles are inserted into certain body regions, the so-called acupuncture points - just under the skin surface.

Clinical studies do not prove the effectiveness of acupuncture, but many sufferers report success from this treatment.

The cervical spine

Pain in the cervical spine can indicate serious problems such as diseases of the intervertebral discs or pinched nerves. Most pain around the cervical vertebrae affects the fascia system.

Thickening, hardening or hardening (fibrosis) or drying out of the connective tissue cause the fascia to shorten. The connective tissue loses mobility and gliding ability. The consequences are fibromyalgia or myofascial pain syndrome.

Specialized body therapists look for the twists and disorders in the body segments and visible changes in the connective tissue.

They are familiar with special fascia grip techniques to manipulate the deep tissue and also use their ankles and elbows to reach the hardened tissues. Most of the time, however, they apply stretch handles with a slight pull and hold them until the fabric loosens.

There are also extra Pilates neck exercises and breathing techniques to help relieve the discomfort.

The treatment of neck pain focuses on all body segments related to the neck: the upper arm muscles, the shoulder girdle, the chest, the spine and even the skull.

Dysfunctions in the movements in each of these regions can affect the biomechanics of the cervical vertebrae - through kinetic relationships of the muscle connections.

Sitting positions, breathing and ergonomic conditions are put to the test. The therapists advise those affected to reduce the use of portable devices to a minimum, as these perpetuate abnormal stereotypes of movement that affect the upper quarter of the body.

When sitting for a long time, the patient should take short breaks to do physiotherapy exercises that reduce the strain on the neck, which triggers desk and computer work.

Cervical frill

Hard frills are rigid and are usually made of plastic. They hold the head and neck very firmly. They are usually only used after a major operation or serious injury, such as a broken neck.

Soft frills are made of foam or rubber. They allow the head and neck to move a little. Such frills are sometimes considered after surgery, but their value for other treatments for neck problems is limited.

Neck problems due to surgery

Neck problems alone rarely justify surgery. However, if someone has a cramped spinal cord, i.e. a jammed cervical vertebra, then surgery should be done as soon as possible.

Surgery only relieves pain that is caused by nerves - they do little to combat tissue and muscle pain. Here, conservative therapy, whether body therapy or medication, is the better choice. Only every 20th patient with neck pain needs an operation.

There are generally two methods of operating on the cervical vertebrae. The first is decompression, in which doctors remove tissue that presses against a nerve structure. In the second case, they stabilize the vertebrae and limit the movement between them.

Neck pain from whiplash

Whiplash can be cured with a combination of different therapies. This includes hot and cold compresses, neck exercises, physiotherapy, massage and pain relievers. A neck support is usually not necessary. (Somayeh Khaleseh Ranjbar, translated by Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch

Swell:

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  • Stephen D. Silberstein: Tension Headache, MSD Manual, (accessed August 26, 2019), MSD
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  • M. Burnus, V. Steinhardt, V. Benner: Relationship between stress and muscle tension at the VDU workstation, magazine Prevention and Health Promotion, issue 3/2012
  • Martin Scherer, Jean-François Chenot: DEGAM S1 Recommended action: Neck pain, German Society for General Medicine and Family Medicine, (available on August 26, 2019), AWMF
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