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Neck Pain Causes

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What Causes Neck Pain?

Your neck is flexible and supports the weight of your head and can be vulnerable to injuries and conditions that cause pain and restrict motion.  The following information describes symptoms of some of the more common medical conditions that cause chronic neck pain.

Wear on joints and disks (Cervical Spondylosis)

As we age, our neck joints and cartilage tend to wear down causing the cartilage between your vertebrae to deteriorate. Your body then forms bone spurs (osteoarthritis) that affect joint motion and may cause pain.

Trauma

Mild neck pain may be caused from a a short fall, tripping or twisting.  More severe neck injuries can be due to a whiplash injury (often caused by a  car accident)  which occurs when the head is jerked backward and then forward, straining the soft tissues of the neck.

Poor Posture

The most common cause of neck pain after an injury is  due to faulty posture.  The neck  is subject to the curvature of the spine below and the position of the head above. An excessive forward curve of the upper back can result in  the head being perched out over the chest acting as a “dead weight” instead of on top of the shoulders and squarely supported by the spinal column.

Muscle strain

The cervical spine is a wonderful example of human architecture allowing for a great degree of flexibility and range of motion in the head and neck.   However the very same  engineering that allows this area of the spine to be so flexible also leaves it vulnerable to injury.  Overuse, such as too many hours hunched over your computer or smartphone, often triggers muscle strains. Even minor activities, such as reading in bed, sitting in a non-supportive chair or clenching your teeth, can strain neck muscles. Improper sleep positions also play a factor in neck pain.  Not using a pillow with proper support for your cervical spine is a fairly common cause of neck ache.  While not serious in nature, muscle strain can still cause a high level of neck pain.

Nerve Compression

Herniated disks or bone spurs in the vertebrae of your neck can press on the nerves branching out from the spinal cord.  For example,  pressure on a nerve root exiting the spine may cause neck pain.  Commonly known as a  “pinched nerve”, it is the name given to the painful sensation caused when increased pressure leads to irritation or damage to a peripheral nerve (a peripheral nerve is one that is outside the brain and spinal cord.).

Disease

Neck pain can be caused from a number of diseases.  Examples of common medical conditions including  degenerative disc disease, neck strain, a herniated disc or a pinched nerve (see Nerve Compression) , fibromyalgia and polymalgia rheumatica.   Neck pain can come from a common infection, such as a throat infection that impacts lymph nodes and may cause swelling. Neck pain can also come from rare infections, such as tuberculosis, meningitis, osteomyelitis and septic discitis. Certain cancers can also cause neck pain including  squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck.

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