Neck pain: causes and what to do about it?

Woman worried about neck pain

Neck pain is the fourth most common cause of years of work-life lost, according to the Global Burden of Disease study. It is believed that half of the world's population will experience at least one clinically significant episode of neck pain in their lifetime. So if you didn't have one, there are only 2 options: either someone else's neck hurts, or you need to wait a bit.

In different countries, 15-50% of residents suffer from neck pain. Moreover, women have this problem more often than men. And in both sexes, the incidence rate peaks in middle age, and not in the elderly, as one might expect.

Neck pain provokes conditions that worsen the quality of life - headache, back and joint pain, and depression. After all, you must agree that it is difficult to enjoy life when your neck constantly hurts. But why is this happening?

Why does the neck hurt?

The cause of pain in the cervical spine can be:

  • heredity;
  • overweight;
  • sleep posture disorders;
  • smoking;
  • a sedentary lifestyle, including office work and poor posture during prolonged sitting.

Research findings often (but not always! ) Show a positive relationship between neck pain and body mass index. Among the reasons why overweight people may be predisposed to neck pain is called systemic inflammation - inflammaging. This is a sluggish inflammatory process in organs and tissues, which does not cause clinically significant symptoms, but "undermines" the health of the body.

Decreased muscle strength is also sometimes observed in overweight people. This provokes low mobility. It turns out to be a kind of vicious circle, when one problem aggravates another: weak muscles reduce the intensity and number of movements, which further weakens the muscles.

Several studies have shown that office workers are more likely to develop neck pain. The main factor that leads to this condition is called the poor organization of the workplace / space. On occasion, you can tell your boss so.

However, neck pain is not always a consequence of lifestyle. Various injuries, domestic or sports, can also lead to this condition. As a rule, they do not go unnoticed, so we will not dwell on them in detail.

What kind of neck pain is there?

According to the duration of the discomfort, neck pain is:

  • acute - up to 6 weeks;
  • subacute - from 6 weeks to 3 months;
  • chronic - from 3 months or more.

The longer the process lasts, the worse the prognosis of its treatment.

For reasons of occurrence, neck pain is divided into:

  • mechanical;
  • neuropathic;
  • secondary.

Mechanical painoccurs in the spine itself or the surrounding ligaments and muscles. It can occur with degenerative, age-related and other changes in these tissues.

Neuropathic painappears due to dysfunction of the nerves. It is usually associated with irritation of the nerve roots. For example, painful symptoms with herniated intervertebral discs or narrowing (stenosis) of the spinal canal.

Secondary painmay be a consequence of vascular pathology with tissue malnutrition or reflection of pain in the heart, etc.

The ability to distinguish between mechanical, neuropathic and secondary pain is critical for the doctor, since the tactics of treatment directly depend on this. Various questionnaires have been developed today. However, a competent doctor is able to determine the source of the problem based on a high-quality history collection, a full examination and instrumental research data, including an X-ray or CT / MRI.

Where does the neck hurt?

Here we are slightly stepping into the medical territory, since this information is directly related to medical diagnostics. And we believe that only qualified medical specialists should be engaged in the analysis of the state of health.

The information below can help you locate the problem in your neck. But we will emphasize once again that the specified text should not be taken as the ultimate truth, since it contains general information that may not reflect your individual characteristics.

The vast majority of people have 7 vertebrae in the cervical spine. They are numbered C1 to C7, taking their name from the Latin Cervix (Neck). In this part of the spine there are also 8 pairs of nerve roots, which are designated from C1 to C8. The first pair comes out above the first cervical vertebra, and the eighth pair - under the seventh cervical vertebra. Therefore, there are 7 vertebrae in the neck, and 8 nerve roots.

Depending on the localization of the pathology in various nerve roots, a person may exhibit certain symptoms:

  • C4 root - affected in less than 10% of cases. Usually the pain is localized in the upper or middle part of the neck. In this case, as a rule, there is no muscle weakness or dysfunctions of the body.
  • C5 spine - here problems occur in about 10% of cases. Soreness is localized in the neck, reflected in the shoulder, between the shoulder blades and in the front of the arm. Abduction and external rotation of the shoulder and flexion of the elbow may be difficult.
  • C6 root - affected in 20-25% of cases. Most often, the neck, shoulder and between the shoulder blades, as well as the inner side of the forearm, hurt. Pain may be reflected in the thumb and forefinger on the affected side. Difficulty flexion of the elbow, some movement of the shoulder and forearm, extension of the wrist.
  • C7 root - is most often affected, in 45-60% of cases. The pain is localized in the lower part of the neck with the transition to the shoulder, interscapular region and the extensor surface of the forearm. The middle finger on the affected side and the chest may be affected. Difficulties with extension of the elbow and fingers, pronation (inward rotation) of the forearm are noted.
  • C8 root - affected in 10% of cases. The lower part of the neck, the inner side of the forearm and the hand hurt. Difficulty flexing the wrist and some finger movements may be present.

How is neck pain treated?

Neck pain can be treated in a variety of ways, although it is optimal not to "kick in" the condition until you need therapy. We will not consider medicines here, since the prescribing of medicines should be handled by a doctor. But we will appreciate the scientific evidence of more "popular" and very popular options for getting rid of neck pain.

Spinal manipulations

These are manual therapy techniques designed to relieve muscle tension, improve joint mobility and correct pathological spinal curves.

Studies have noted the superiority of spinal manipulation over no treatment or placebo in the short term. There is weak evidence of their superiority over pharmacotherapy.

Acupuncture (acupuncture)

It is the introduction of needles into specific points of the body to relieve pain or temporary anesthesia. The needles can be operated manually or supplemented with electrical stimulation.

There is weak evidence that acupuncture is better than no treatment in the short term. But there is strong evidence that acupuncture is comparable to a placebo.

Hand massage

Well-known mechanical manipulation of body tissues to improve their function and overall relaxation.

The superiority of massage over no treatment and placebo was recorded. At the same time, massage is considered no more effective than other methods of therapy in the short to medium term. There is also no evidence of improvement in organ function after mechanical kneading.


This is a series of special exercises to strengthen the spine. They are believed to be able to reduce pain, improve posture and overall body mechanics.

There is strong evidence for the benefits of exercise therapy for neck pain relief, including the effects of whiplash. However, there is no clear evidence that one exercise therapy technique is preferable to another. Apparently, on average, they are equally good.


A series of physical and spiritual practices that help harmonize the mind, improve physical fitness and self-actualization.

Yoga can actually help with neck pain, but it is considered no more effective than physiotherapy exercises.

Traction traction

Special treatments to relieve pressure on the spine. Traction traction is generally no better than placebo and no better than other methods in terms of effectiveness.

Soft bandage (Shants collar, etc. )

Orthopedic device for fixing the neck in a certain position. In terms of effectiveness, it is approximately the same as physiotherapy.

How to prevent neck pain?

Neck pains are quite often associated with improper posture - to prevent them, keep your head on the same axis with the spine. Some simple lifestyle changes can also help you:

  • Take frequent breaks from work. . . Get up from the table regularly, move around, and stretch / stretch your neck and shoulders.
  • Adjust the position of the table, chair and computer / laptopso that the monitor is at eye level. The knees should be slightly below the hips.
  • If you want to free your hands while talking on the phone, do not support it with your shoulder. Instead of thisuse a headset or speakerphone. . .
  • Quit smoking. . . Smoking increases the risk of neck pain.
  • Avoid carrying heavy bags on one shoulder. . .
  • Sleep in a good posture. . . Your head and neck should be in line with your body. Place a small pillow under your head. Try sleeping on your back with your hips slightly raised on small pillows to relax your spine muscles.