There are a number of common conditions that may result in pain being felt in the neck region. Below you will find a list of common neck conditions. The information within is not meant as a substitute to treatment and should the symptoms remain it is important that you seek help from a qualified health professional.
The neck or cervical spine consists of 7 vertebrae and connects your skull to your body. The cervical vertebrae enclose the spinal cord which contains the nerves that innervate your entire body from the neck down.
The main functions of the cervical spine include :
The cervical spine is a very mobile region of your body, predisposing it to injury. Injury may occur as a result of direct force such as a head knock, but may also occur as a result of indirect force in the case of whiplash. The cervical spine is also vulnerable to injury if abnormal postural loads are applied to it for prolonged periods of time.
Acquired Torticollis or 'wry neck' is a condition that is self-limiting and is commonly felt as a stiff neck. It normally resolves within 1-4 weeks, and is commonly felt upon waking in the morning. Unusual postures, colds, stress, and sleeping in different beds are sometimes implicated. Often, the stiffness in motion is towards one side, and there is a feeling of muscle spasm throughout one side of the neck. Common muscles involved include the sternocleidomastoid and trapezius muscles.
Physiotherapy can help immensely with this condition, by applying joint mobilisation, massage, and exercise therapy techniques. The application of heat is also very commonly used in treating this condition.
Recurrent episodes of a wry neck, may suggest an underlying instability. Quite often large muscles that move the neck become overactive, and small stabilising muscles do not fire when they are supposed to. This can result in unwanted motion at certain joints of the cervical spine and a resultant joint strain. Biomechanical assessment by a physiotherapist can help restore normal muscle balance to the cervical spine, and reduce the occurrence of this annoying condition.
Whiplash is a very common injury, but due to its nature it is often wrongly diagnosed or mistreated. Whiplash is usually the result of a sudden acceleration or deceleration force being applied to the cervical spine. The most common example of this is a car accident. The bones of the neck are forced into a position of extreme extension or flexion resulting in damage to the soft tissues that hold the cervical spine together including ligaments, joint capsules and muscles.
Common symptoms of whiplash may include neck pain and stiffness, headache, dizziness, shoulder pain, arm pain, visual disturbances, ringing in the ears, or even jaw and back pain. Because of the complexity of whiplash injuries other symptoms can also include depression, stress, and sleep disturbance.
Examination from the physiotherapist will be able to determine whether whiplash is a cause of neck pain. Most patients require treatment to restore normal range of movement and strength to the neck. This treatment may include:
In the early stages of whiplash that may also be necessary to reduce pain with medication.
In some cases whiplash may require further investigation if appropriate physiotherapy management fails to resolve symptoms. Investigations may include an x-ray, CT scan, or MRI. Your physiotherapist is able to refer you to the appropriate medical professional to obtain these investigations.