Neck pain is a common ailment that affects 50-70% of people at some point in their lives. The severity can range from mere nuisance to major disability. There are a number of potential causes of neck pain ranging from poor posture to whiplash.
In most cases, neck pain can be dealt with effectively, if the right approach is taken. However, there are a wide variety of factors that can contribute to neck pain. For successful treatment, these factors must be identified and treated as they affect each individual.
What Causes Neck Pain?
What is currently known is that there are a number of anatomical structures that can cause neck pain:
Facet (aka Spinal Joints)
The spinal joints are the most common pain generator in neck conditions, accounting for approximately 50% of neck pain following whiplash injuries. Pain arising from these structures occurs when the joints lose their normal resiliency and shock absorption capacity. This can impair its normal range of movement and the joint can become painful. In addition, because the joint contains nerve receptors, the dysfunction can cause abnormal signals to be sent to the central nervous system that can cause the muscles related to that joint to either become tense or, conversely, to become limp.
Cervical Spine Disc
The intervertebral disc is located between each spinal vertebrae. It is responsible for shock absorption and provides protection to the vertebrae, brain, and nerves. Excess strain and pressure can be placed on the discs with prolonged postures or trauma causing the development of small tears in the disc . These small tears can allow the gel that is held in the middle of the disc to seep out and irritate the nerve endings in the outer portion of the disc. This is known as disc derangement. Occasionally, but uncommonly, this gel can seep all the way out and press on one of the nerve roots that exit the spinal cord in front of the disc. This is known as disc herniation. When this happens, pain in the neck as well as in the arm can develop, along with neurological symptoms such as numbness, tingling and muscle weakness.
Muscle strain or overactivity can lead to focal areas of irritation. The involved muscle will react by either becoming shortened and tight or limp and inhibited. In either case, one thing that can happen in these muscles is the development of trigger points, areas of congestion within the muscle where there is increased irritation to the surrounding nerve endings. These trigger points can cause pain to refer to other areas and have been implicated in the development of not only neck and arm pain but headaches as well.
Instability occurs when the muscles whose job it is to support the spine and protect the discs and joints fail to function properly. These muscles must work cooperatively and harmoniously to guard against strain to the neck and back. But injury, disuse or joint and muscle dysfunction can cause these muscles to stop working at optimum, rendering the spine susceptible to injury.