Advice and information for patients
Neck pain is an umbrella term that can encompass many different causes of symptoms of pain or discomfort and restriction of movement within your upper spine. Neck pain is very common with two out three people being affected at some point in their lives. You can often manage short spells of neck pain yourself using over the counter painkillers and gentle stretches
What are the symptoms of neck pain?
The level of pain can vary from person to person, from a niggle to more persistent aching. The main symptoms include:
- Pain in the neck, back of the shoulders or shoulder blade
- Stiffness or difficulty turning the head
Some people may also experience:
- Pain into the arm or hand
- Tingling, pins and needles and numbness in the arm and hand
What causes neck pain?
There are lots of reasons why people develop neck pain. Sometimes neck pain is related to the soft tissues (for example a muscle sprain) and clears up in a few days with gentle exercise and over-the-counter painkillers. Sometimes neck pain is related to changes in the discs and joints in the neck (spondylosis). Things like stress, anxiety and worry can also contribute to neck pain.
Be aware of the position of your neck day-to-day, and how much you move your neck – the neck is designed to move, and if it’s been stationary for hours whilst you look at a screen, it might start to complain.
How is it diagnosed?
Diagnosis is usually made from the patient’s history and a simple examination without the need for special investigations. A scan may be done if there is uncertainty about the diagnosis, but it is unusual.
How can I manage my neck pain?
Try to maintain a good posture and stay active. It is perfectly safe to move your neck even when it is painful and this will help to stop structures stiffening up and your muscles becoming weak. It will make your neck stronger, more flexible and healthier in the long run. Moving your neck little and often is usually the best approach to help you get back to normal.
There is self-management advice provided below to help minimise symptoms and facilitate the healing process:
Painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen or anti-inflammatory gels may be helpful to control the pain and allow you to continue moving. Discuss this with your GP or pharmacist. Some people also find warmth or heat on the area relieves the symptoms.
Exercise might make your neck feel a bit sore at first but it doesn't cause any harm. Start off slowly and gradually increase the amount of exercise you do.
Are there any signs or symptoms to be concerned about?
Neck pain is rarely a serious problem. However if you experience the following you should see your GP or physiotherapist:
- An increase in clumsiness in both your hands
- Pain, tingling, numbness or weakness down both your arms at the same time
- Changes in the way you are walking, such as tripping, stumbling, falling or loss of control of your feet
Further management options
If there is no response to the self-management information given within the next few weeks, please seek further advice from your physiotherapist or GP.