Neck Pain

Understanding the Different Types of Neck Pain and Their Various Causes

"A pain in the neck" is a common expression that refers to something that is particularly troublesome. In reality, neck pain is an often debilitating condition that affects millions of Americans. Although the condition is not always well-defined, the three general types of neck pain are known as acute, chronic and radicular. Each variety has its own underlying causes and symptoms.

Acute neck pain, which can cause much discomfort that often goes away on its own, usually results from a traumatic event. The precipitating factor can result in both short term and long term injury. Whiplash suffered in a traffic accident is responsible for many upper spine injuries, along with falls and blows to the head that can be either accidental or intentional. Long-term problems can result from ongoing conditions, from poor posture to poor sleeping habits. Those who spend considerable time on the telephone can find themselves creating their own neck pain if they constantly use their shoulder as a "craddle."

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Chronic neck pain is particularly insidious due to its long-term effects and because it can indicate a more serious illness. Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition in which the immune system of the body fails to function properly, making joints in the neck and elsewhere stiff and painful. Another common cause of neck pain is spinal stenosis, which leads to pinched nerves along the spine. Pain due to pinched nerves can also stem from the herniation, or rupturing, of the disk, which is the natural padding located between the bones of the spine. Other causes of chronic neck pain include meningitis, which involves the inflammation of the material surrounding the brain and spinal cord, and benign or malignant tumors.

Radicular neck pain is a specific condition affecting the root of a nerve, at the point where it leaves the spine. The condition can actually cause pain away from the nerve that is directly affected. Both acute and chronic neck pain can have causes that are similar in nature. Strained or bruised muscles resulting from poor posture or trauma can cause pain on both short and long-term bases. Spine misalignment, or vertebral subluxation, can be a long-term condition or result from sudden trauma.

It may be possible to treat neck pain with something as simple as an ice bag or an over-the-counter pain reliever, though in rare cases the condition may require surgery. A thorough diagnosis of the underlying cause will be required in order to determine the best course of action.

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