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  • Ashleigh Clinic

Understanding neck pain: common causes and what we can do about it

Neck pain is a common problem, with many of us experiencing some level of it at some point in our lives. Reassuringly, neck pain is often mild and will get better by itself over time. Our increased use of technology though, such as computers, mobile phones and cars, is increasing the chance of us having neck pain, so let’s take a few minutes to understand what causes it, and what we can do about it.

A woman rubbing her neck

How common is neck pain?

NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) has some interesting statistics about neck pain:

  • Between 40% and 70% of the UK population will suffer with neck pain at some point in their lives.

  • Neck pain is most likely between the ages of 45 and 54.

  • It is more common in women than in men.

It’s worth noting here that a medical professional may refer to neck pain as cervical pain as the neck area of your spinal column is called your cervical spine.

What causes neck pain?

Many of us are now spending 10 to 15 hours per day at home, work and school, all while adopting poor postures. Common factors include:

  • Improper/poor positioning while sitting, using computers and mobile phones.

Next time you’re around other people, take a look at how they are sitting. Do they have a straight back and shoulders and are their feet flat on the floor?

  • Long hours of repetitive movements.

Your spine is designed to move so when we sit for long periods, our muscles, ligaments and tendons contract, circulation is impeded and the result is more limitation of movement. Think about how you feel when you stand after working on a computer for three or four hours.

  • Carrying heavy backpacks, purses and briefcases.

All of these increase the loading through the spine. This increases the pressure through the discs and small joints at the side of the spine called the facet joints. Over time, slipped discs and wear and tear occur.

What does neck pain feel like?

Common symptoms of neck pain include:

  • Pain and stiffness

You may feel this in your neck and shoulders and have trouble turning your head from side to side.

  • Numbness and tingling

If a nerve is being pinched (known as nerve impingements), you may experience numbness, hypersensitivity or tingling in the arms, hands or fingers, or face.

  • Clicking and grating noises (crepitus)

The inflammatory changes in the tissues cause the tissue to contract and restrict the normal movement of the neck. This increases the pressure on the joints of the neck and, if there is wear and tear (arthritis), the joint surfaces are limited and they can rub together, making a clicking or grating sound.

  • Dizziness and blackouts

Impingement of the arteries for fractions of a second can cause a brief restriction of blood supply to the brain, potentially leading to dizziness or blackouts.

  • Headaches

Nerve impingement and inflammation cause the local tissue to contract, increasing the pressure on the joints and nerves, resulting in headaches.

  • Weakness and lack of coordination of the arm or fingers

When the nerve is pinched, brain signals cannot travel to the intended area as efficiently, rather like when you trap an electric cable and the bulb keeps going on and off.

  • Nausea

This can occur with acute inflammation and pinching of the nerve.

It is also important to understand that some people may have nerve impingement, inflammation or disc issues and may present with no symptoms at all. A study of 33 elite tennis players between the ages of 15 and 19 showed all 33 had some abnormality going on and eight had slipped or prolapsed discs. But not one complained of any pain. So it is important to understand some of these changes are normal and you can carry on being active, as long as it is stable.

What can be done to relieve neck pain?

As we said before, many instances of neck pain will resolve themselves over time without any medical intervention. However, if your pain is not going away or is getting worse, it’s a good idea to get some help. Here at Ashleigh Clinic, we see many people who, because of their pain, are:

  • Struggling to work or partake in their typical daily activities.

  • Told that they will need to change their occupation.

  • Told that they will never be able to work again.

This can be scary and daunting for many people so the first thing we always emphasise is that we believe you do not have to live in pain and can get back to leading an active life. To do this, you need to understand your condition so that you know what aggravates it, how to treat it (and not just the symptoms) and how to minimise the chances of it reoccurring in the future.

Our approach is focused on two areas:

  • Education

What causes the pain? How can I relieve the pain? How do I stop the pain? These are all questions that we aim to help you understand during your time with us.

  • Treatment

We offer many forms of treatment depending on your condition, all focused on restoring your normal function as much as possible. Targeting your condition and functional issues (the things that you are unable to do) are the priority, as restoration of these should reduce the likelihood of future reoccurrence of the condition. We firmly believe that maintenance is a crucial part of your ongoing treatment plan. What do we mean by maintenance? If we applied the idea of maintenance to fitness, you wouldn’t go to the gym for eight weeks to get fit and then say ‘I’m fit now, I don't need to go again.” It’s the same for treating neck pain. There are always things that can be done to maintain or improve your standard of living.

Our key aim from start to finish is always to target the source of the condition (rather than your symptoms) and give exercises relevant to your goals. What activities did you used to enjoy that you are struggling to currently do? We’ll work towards you being able to do those again.

We believe that "movement is everything.” The better you move, the more efficient you are and the less you compromise your tissues and joints. This means you can enjoy a better quality of life, whatever your age.

If you’re struggling with neck pain and would like some advice, please call Ashleigh Clinic on 0116 270 7948 or fill in our Contact form.


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