Most people experience a minor neck problem at one time or the other. Reports suggest that neck injuries (cervical spine injuries) affect up to half of the US adults each year. The neck (cervical spine) is made up of vertebrae that extend from the skull to the upper torso. The cervical spine (bones in the neck) being an extremely flexible part of the body allows more motion than other parts of the spine. The increased flexibility offers easy movement and less protection from the rest of the spine, thereby making it more prone to injury. Neck problems and injuries most commonly occur during sports or recreational activities, work-related tasks, or projects around the home.Neck pain is something that requires careful medical diagnosis and treatment. Fortunately, leading multi-specialty pain management centers in Brooklyn, NYC offer effective treatment options to address pain and stiffness associated with these neck injuries.
Neck Injury – Common Causes of Neck Pain
Any specific injury that places stress or pressure on your neck has the potential to cause neck pain. In most cases, neck injury occurs due to the following causes –
- Overuse or increased stress
- Automobile accidents, especially rear-impact collisions
- Sports-related incidents, such as football, horseback riding, and hockey
- Lifting heavy objects
- Forward head posture
- Hyper/hypo mobility of the cervical spine
- Repetitive activities, such as working at a computer
Depending on the type and extent of injury and strain involved, a person may experience neck pain as well as headache, shoulder pain, and numbness or tingling in the arms and legs.
Types of Neck Injuries
Neck injuries most commonly occur in the form of a sudden movement or impact that overstretches or severely twists the neck. The bones (vertebrae) in the cervical spine are connected by neck muscles, nerves, and ligaments. Each vertebra is cushioned along the spine by discs that absorb any pressure or impact. Here listed are some of the common types of neck injuries –
- Whiplash – Regarded as the most common type of neck injury, whiplash involves injury to the soft tissues of the neck. Also called neck sprain or neck strain, this occurs when an impact or blow causes the head to jerk forward or backward beyond its normal range of motion. Whiplash injury is usually associated with car accidents, sports, physical abuse, accidental slips or other trauma which result in sudden head movements.
- Sprains and strains – Even though both these terms appear to be similar, they are quite unrelated. A sprain is an injury to a ligament caused by falls or sudden twists that overload or overstretch one or more joints in your cervical spine. Another cause is repeated stress to the joint. Symptoms can be very varied but may include pain at the back of your neck (that worsens with movement), muscle spasms and pain in your upper shoulder, neck stiffness and weakness and pain that comes on slowly and peaks after about 24 hours. A neck strain on the other hand is an injury to the muscles that attach to and move the head and upper part of the spine. Symptoms include muscle spasm, reduced flexibility, and pain. Factors that cause these injuries are – inadequate flexibility, muscle imbalance, muscle fatigue and poor muscle strength.
- Herniated discs – This type of injury occurs when the soft substance (called the nucleus pulpous) on the inside of the disc is pushed out and begins to leak into its outer fibrous tissue, the annulus fibrosis, placing pressure on a nerve root. Symptoms include feeling of pain, weakness, numbness, and/or pins and needles down your arm. Treatment for this injury generally starts with NSAIDs and physical therapy exercises. In some cases, surgery may be opted depending on individual patient outcomes.
- Stingers and burners – Most commonly seen in contact-sport athletes, these are temporary injuries to the spinal nerve root or brachial plexus. Stingers and burners may be caused either by an abrupt tilt of the head or when the head and shoulder are forced in opposite directions at the same time. Typical symptoms include – burning, stinging, electrical sensation down one arm and numbness/weakness.
- Cervical fractures and dislocations – These are rare neck injuries that may be caused by trauma, falls, degenerative changes, or instability. The most serious neck fractures are generally accompanied by cervical dislocation. Treatment for these injuries may depend on the extent of damage to the spine and other factors like age and pre-existing medical conditions.
- Spinal cord damage – A spinal cord injury (SCI) occurs when a fracture, dislocation, or other neck injury damages the spinal cord. People living with this type of injury often suffer a lifelong disability with complete or incomplete paralysis below the level of injury.
- Repetitive strain – Maintaining a poor posture while working at the computer, sleeping on an inadequate pillow, or reading in bed can cause the muscles in your neck to become over strained causing severe pain and movement difficulty.
Multi-specialty healthcare centers in Brooklyn, NYC offer a wide variety of effective non-surgical treatment modalities to treat different types of neck injuries. In most cases, mild or moderate cases of injuries can be effectively treated by using Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (like ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen), ice or heat applications or other remedies. Other additional treatment modalities include – Physical therapy (which includes therapeutic exercise programs such as gentle strengthening, stretching, and aerobic exercises), Chiropractic treatment (which involves gentle manipulation of the joint and other treatments to reduce pain and improve function), and TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation which involves application of low-voltage electrical current) for pain relief. Game Ready cold therapy is particularly effective for pain management and helps promote proper alignment between the soft tissues, joints and ligaments around the injury point, which is critical for complete recovery.
However, surgery for treating these neck injuries will be considered only as a last resort, when patients don’t experience full recovery with any of the above non-surgical treatment methods.
Preventing Neck Injuries
Neck injuries can often lead to severe pain that improve with time. Resting your neck for a few days or weeks will help your injury heal faster. Depending on the type of injury, physicians will advise patients to wear a soft collar or brace for a couple of days to relieve pressure on the neck while it heals. Other prominent steps that can help people better manage pain and minimize chances of sustaining further injuries include –
- Maintaining proper posture
- Practicing best sleeping position
- Minimizing falls
- Wearing protective equipment (e.g., helmet, harness, etc) when engaging in sports or other physical activities that may pose harm to your head or neck.
- Wearing seatbelt while driving
- Take frequent breaks between activities
- Never carry heavy bags with shoulder straps
Paying attention to the above mentioned tips will help reduce or prevent the occurrence of neck injuries in the long run. It takes only a few seconds to injure your neck, but it can take months or years to regain function, if at all.