What is Acute Neck Pain?
Acute neck pain is pain felt in the region of the neck that lasts for a short time (i.e. less than three months). Statistics show that around 10–15% of the population has neck pain at any given time. While the duration of symptoms varies from person to person, it is not uncommon for neck pain to be persistent. The pain intensity can range from mild to severe.
What Causes Acute Neck Pain?
In most cases it is not possible to pinpoint the cause of the neck pain, or it may be the result of an injury. In either case, it is not necessary to have a specific diagnosis of the cause in order to manage the pain effectively. There is a less than 1% chance that the pain is due to a serious medical condition.
Commonly we find that neck joints (cervical spine) become stiff or locked much like a rusty hinge. This in turn usually causes protective muscle spasm of some neck and shoulder muscles and weakness of others. The longer this abnormal scenario exists, the harder it is to reverse the habit. Your neck posture alters, which strains adjacent joints and muscles, and the condition cyclically deteriorates. Ultimately you end up with a sore neck.
How Neck Pain is Treated
The interesting thing about necks is that one stiff neck joint or one weak or tight muscle can have a dramatic effect if not fixed quickly. We often see patients who have unsuccessfully tried various neck treatment techniques. What we normally find it that it is a combination of neck joint, muscle stretching, massage, acupuncture, neural tissue, strength exercise and postural techniques that are required to reverse some well established poor habits.
What Should I do When I Have Acute Neck Pain?
If your pain bothers you, it is important to see your health practitioner, to work with them to manage your pain, and to stay active.
History and a physical examination are needed to assess for any serious medical conditions that may be present. Additional investigations, such as xrays and blood tests, are not needed in the majority of cases of acute neck pain. They do not help with your pain or your ability to move your neck.
Most people find that their neck pain settles down over time as healing occurs. Pain-relieving measures may help you cope with your symptoms while nature takes its course. Your pain may make it difficult for you to carry out your usual activities, and you might want to avoid moving your neck. However, it is important to resume normal activities as soon as possible. Maintaining the use of your neck helps to prevent long-term problems.
You may need to use pain-relieving measures to help you return to your usual activity level. If you are working, the plan could include a program of selected duties or reduced hours of work. This applies to work at home as well.
- Gentle movement
- Ice or heat
- Panadol or anti-inflammatories (seek medical advise first)
- Avoiding aggravating activities
Helping with Sleep
You may find that when your neck is painful it is difficult to find a comfortable way to sleep. The most important thing is to find a position that supports the neck and takes the weight of the head off the muscles so they can relax. An orthopaedic pillow is a fantastic way to keep the vertebrae of your neck aligned in a neutral position and can provide relief when laying down. Orthopaedic pillows are also great for reducing the chance of your neck joints locking up again and should be used every night.