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Most neck pain is caused by minor injury to the neck’s soft tissues from repeated or prolonged movements. Even poor posture, such as cradling the phone, can cause neck pain.
Generally most neck pain falls into three categories; muscle strains, nerve compression (“pinched nerves”) and joint problems.
A muscle strain, also known as a pulled muscle, may be minor (such as an overstretched muscle) or severe (such as a torn muscle or tendon). Strains are generally caused by over stretching muscles. Symptoms of a muscle strain can vary, depending on how severe the strain is, and may include: Pain and tenderness that is worse with movement, and welling and bruising may be present. Recovery time for a muscle strain can vary, depending on a person’s age and health and the type and severity of the strain. While a minor strain often heals well with home treatment, a severe strain may require medical treatment. If a severe strain is not treated, a person may have long-term pain, limited movement, and deformity.
Nerve compression presents very differently than a muscle problem. With most patients it starts as sharp neck pain with movement but them progresses to include pain that travels away from the neck often into the shoulder and arm and even hand. The pain in the arm is usually different than that in the neck. Often including tingling or numbness. In some cases the patients neck pain may cease to exist at some point being replaced entirely by arm discomfort.
Nerve compression in the neck can arise from several different sources but common source is from an injured or herniated spinal disc.
The last major category of neck pain is that which comes not from a change in the muscles or nerves but rather the joints of the spine. Here there are a multitude of possible issues that can arise from arthritic changes as we get older to simple overuse. One commonly encountered problem that creates neck pain are simply joints that aren’t moving normally. The older description of a “joint out of place” has been replaced with the term “joint dysfunction”. This is where a joint (where two spinal bones touch each other” no longer move properly. This can result in too little movement, a stiffened joint, or a joint with too much motion, an unstable joint. In either case the result is usually pain local to the neck on motion. One very simple example of such a joint cause of neck pain is the just the occasional “crick in the neck” where someone will loose the ability to turn the neck one direction or another in the absence of an injury.
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