Neck pain

How does the neck work?

The neck is part of your spine or spinal column. The spine is made up of 24 bones called vertebrae, one sitting on top of the other. These bones have discs in between them and lots of strong ligaments and muscles around them for support and to allow you to move.

At the level of each disc, nerve roots branch out of the spinal cord and connect to the muscles, tissues and organs. The neck is the top 7 bones of the spine.

As you grow older, the structures of your spine remain strong, but it’s usual for your neck to get stiffer as you get older.

Neck pain is a common problem, with most people suffering from neck pain at some point in their lives, and it can re-occur over time.  The majority of the time it doesn’t mean you have actually damaged your neck, it is not usually serious and most often eases on its own or with simple exercise within a few days.  Nearly all neck pain begins to fade within two-weeks and settles within six-weeks.  If the pain doesn’t improve seek further advice from your general practitioner.

If it is a new problem, you often don’t need to seek advice from a health care professional.

X-rays, scans and treatment are not usually needed.

  • Neck pain more often than not occurs for no apparent reason – it is common for there to have been NO injury or incident to trigger the pain eg waking up one morning with pain (which can be severe)
  • A strain or sprain of structures around your neck can also happen, for example sports-related or work-related (lifting something awkwardly or something that is too heavy for your level of physical conditioning/fitness).
  • A sudden increase or decrease in your normal exercise/activity levels.
  • Poor desk/work station set up
  • Whiplash/after a car accident
  • Less commonly involved are discs and nerves
  • Low levels of physical activity
  • Periods of increased stress, worry or low mood
  • Fatigue
  • Smoking
  • There is increasing evidence that posture plays less of a role in neck pain than previously thought
  • Sedentary lifestyles where our bodies are in one position for long periods of time for example sitting at a desk using a computer or sitting on a sofa to watch TV, does have play a part in neck problems

Here is a video explaining how to set up your desk space:

Often the cause of neck problems are not certain and the best course of action is to concentrate on the things that may help.

When to arrange an appointment with your Doctor

  • Neck pain that has not resolved after 4-6 weeks.
  • Severe head, neck or arm pain that is constant and disturbs sleep.
  • If you feel unwell or have unexplained weight loss.
  • If you have pain, tingling, numbness or weakness in your arms or legs.
  • If you develop neck stiffness along with difficulty lifting both arms above your head.

In very rare cases neck related problems require immediate attention these include:

  • Weakness or loss of feeling in both arms or legs
  • Sudden severe pain after a fall or violent injury (e.g. a road traffic accident, fall from a height).

If you experience any of these, you should contact your GP or CAV247 on the following number, 0300 1020247 or visit the CAV247 Website to arrange an appointment slot in A&E.

  • It is best to keep moving and to continue with your normal everyday activities. Being active and doing gentle exercise at first should not make your neck pain worse, and you should try to remain active even if you have a bit of pain and discomfort at first.  Staying active will help you get better, taking painkillers and using heat can also help you do this.  When returning to sport start with light fitness training and gradually increase as your neck recovers.
  • Try to take regular breaks from work that involves sustained postures for example if you work at a desk for long hours, try to take a walk in your lunch break, and take short breaks every hour to move your neck and spine.

If you would like advice about medication or other methods of pain relief to help you to manage your pain better speak to your community pharmacist.

Pain medication can help to reduce pain and help you to move more comfortably, which can aid your recovery.

When taking pain medication it is important to take it regularly.

Please watch this video on how to pace your exercise
before starting the exercises.

If during the video you are experiencing significant pain please stop the video and seek advice from your GP.

Exercise for Neck pain

Keeping your neck moving and gently stretching your neck can often help with discomfort.

Exercise links:

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