Neck pain - treatment and causes

Neck pain - treatment and causes

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Almost everyone suffers from neck pain at least once in their lifetime. The complaints can have many causes, but serious damage is rarely present. Instead, the reason in most cases is relatively harmless neck tension or muscle tension, which e.g. can result from permanent work on the PC, one-sided movements during sport or a general overload (as a result of heavy physical work or similar). To a certain extent, those affected can help themselves with simple exercises and preventive measures. But the pain lasts longer or there are accompanying complaints such as A fever, paralysis or numbness should be consulted immediately.

Neck pain: definition

Neck pain is a common problem that affects almost everyone at some point. They can appear in different forms and accordingly e.g. show once in the form of suddenly shooting, pulling or stinging pain that disappears after a short time. Other sufferers report regular pain attacks. Depending on how long the symptoms last, medical professionals differentiate between acute (i.e. up to 3 weeks) and subacute (4 to 12 weeks) neck pain. If these recur after a certain time, they are referred to as recurrent ("recurring"). If they last for more than three months in a row, doctors speak of chronic pain in the neck.

The complaints are often not limited to the neck and neck. Instead, they also radiate to other areas of the body, which means that many patients e.g. also suffer from back, head or shoulder pain. While problems in the upper part of the cervical spine often lead to neck pain, disorders in the area of ​​the lower cervical spine are more of a burden to the shoulders. In addition, there are usually more or less pronounced restrictions on movement such as a stiff neck, which represents a massive additional burden for those affected.

Causes of neck pain

Pain in the neck area can have many triggers. Serious damage is rarely present, instead it is often a comparatively harmless tension or cramping of the neck muscles. These usually arise from an imbalance in the muscles (“muscular imbalances”), which in turn can have various causes. Above all, this includes permanent incorrect posture (e.g. due to incorrect sitting on the PC), lack of exercise, overloading or one-sided movements during sport or protective postures after injuries. If certain muscles are overloaded by incorrect or monotonous strain, they harden - while other muscles shrivel due to the permanent underload. As a result, the natural support corset of the spine becomes more and more unstable, which means that even the simplest movements can only be carried out with extreme pain or even not at all.

In addition to this, accidental injuries such as a so-called "whiplash" into consideration. This often results from a rear-end collision when the head flaps back and forth and the muscles and ligaments on the neck are overstretched. More rarely, the complaints can also have a serious background such as have an abscess in the throat, osteoporosis, rheumatic diseases or a tumor. Therefore, symptoms that appear in parallel, such as Fever, back pain, chills, paralysis, inexplicable weight loss, tingling in the limbs, balance problems or regular falling asleep of the hands are always taken seriously and immediately clarified with a doctor.

Inflammation of the meninges (meningitis) can be the reason for the symptoms. Characteristic for this are above all a stiff neck, which means that the affected person can no longer bend his head on the chest. This is usually accompanied by severe neck pain and flu-like symptoms such as high fever, severe headache and body aches, chills, dizziness and a severe general feeling of illness. If there is suspicion of meningitis, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible. If bacterial meningitis is present, it must be treated immediately, otherwise life-threatening complications such as e.g. Paralysis or sepsis (blood poisoning).

Acute severe pain in the neck, arm, back or upper abdomen can also be a warning sign of a heart attack. In this case, severe chest pain that lasts longer than five minutes and a severe feeling of constriction in the heart area are typical, as well as a burning sensation in the chest and non-specific signs such as intense restlessness, cold sweat, paleness of the breath, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting. If such alarm signals occur, the emergency doctor must be informed immediately, because any time delay can be fatal in an infarction.

If there are chronic or “chronic” complaints in the neck area that last longer than three months, psychological stress often also plays a central role due to conflicts, fears, problems in the partnership, financial worries, persistent emotional overload etc. In order to check the extent to which psychological factors could be responsible for one's own physical suffering, those affected should closely monitor themselves. Questions like "In what situations does my neck muscles cramp?" Can help to understand your own symptoms and to develop targeted coping strategies.

Discomfort in the neck due to wear

Wear processes are often the reason for older people in particular. Because with increasing age, degenerative changes ("signs of wear") on the musculoskeletal system occur naturally, which can manifest themselves, among other things, through pain, restricted movement or paralysis. These include, for example, changes in the intervertebral discs and vertebral bodies (chondrosis and osteochondrosis) in the area of ​​the cervical spine or arthrosis of the small vertebral joints. In addition to neck pain and restrictions on mobility, headache on the back of the head and shoulder and arm pain often occur in parallel. This also applies to a herniated disc in the area of ​​the cervical spine, whereby those affected with this extremely rare disease of the spine often have severe back pain or e.g. Paralysis in the arm area.

The so-called “spondylosis” also represents a disease of the vertebral body that is due to degenerative damage. These are characterized by deformations such as Spikes or bumps on the vertebral bodies that enlarge in the course of the disease and can lead to an ossification of one or more vertebral segments (ankylosis).

Neck pain after sleeping

The pain persists over a longer period of time and is e.g. The chronic and incurable disease fibromyalgia can also be clearly felt in the morning after waking up. This is composed of the Latin terms "Fibra" (fiber), "mys" (muscle) and "álgos" (pain) and accordingly describes a clinical picture that is characterized by persistent muscle and connective tissue pain and increased sensitivity to pressure at certain pain points (" Tenderpoints ”) is marked. The pain can occur both in the arms and legs and in the area of ​​the trunk and is often described by those affected as dull, burning or boring. "It is the same feeling as with a sore muscle," or "they remind me of the typical body aches caused by a flu-like infection," explain patients. In many cases, the pain persists for years and can intensify after physical exertion, usually accompanied by symptoms such as Sleep disorders, exhaustion, headache, chronic fatigue, anxiety or an irritable bowel.

Fibromyalgia is a relatively common disease that affects around 2 percent of the population in this country (approximately 1.5 million people). Nevertheless, it is largely unknown and is rarely discussed in public, which is partly due to the fact that it is neither detectable in the blood nor on the X-ray image and is therefore often not officially diagnosed. The causes of the development of the "invisible disease" have not yet been fully clarified. However, it is suspected that the symptoms are triggered by a disruption of the pain memory in the brain. If the brain continuously signals a pain stimulus to a nerve cell, its sensitivity can increase so that the activity remains even without stimulus. As a result, the patient experiences permanent pain, which, however, does not arise in the respective areas of the body itself, but is the result of the disrupted pain processing. This could also explain why no changes or signs of inflammation can be seen at the affected tender points.

An important risk factor is psychological stress in a professional and / or family environment, e.g. due to permanent excessive demands, crisis situations, conflicts or deaths. In this case, the “inner” tension can no longer be reduced accordingly and manifests itself in external tensions that can no longer be released, which then lead to sleep disorders and pain in the shoulders, neck and back. Since a familial accumulation of fibromyalgia can be observed, a genetic predisposition is also assumed, in addition there are other inflammatory-rheumatic system diseases, or e.g. infection with the Epstein-Barr virus is considered to be a trigger or exacerbation of the disease. In addition, a number of other risk factors such as Physical overload, operations and injuries (e.g. due to an accident), incorrect posture or wet and cold weather suspected.

Treatment for neck pain

Treatment depends on the cause. If tension is the reason for the complaints, in most cases these will subside after a few days or weeks. In order to support the healing process, painkillers (e.g. paracetamol) or anti-inflammatory drugs ("non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs", in short: NSAIDs) are used, as needed. Stretching and strengthening exercises, massages as well as cold and warm applications are used. An operation, on the other hand, is usually only carried out if the cause has been clearly clarified (e.g. spinal disc tissue has escaped) and this can probably be remedied by the intervention. However, since interventions in the cervical spine are associated with risks, it is particularly important here to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of an operation in each individual case.

In the case of long-lasting, chronic pain such as fibromyalgia, the best way to help patients is usually through so-called “multimodal pain therapy”. Here, by combining different types of treatment such as Medications, physical therapies (wraps, mud and fango packs, cold chamber, nerve stimulation etc.), relaxation techniques or acupuncture try to alleviate the patient's suffering. In addition, e.g. Self-help groups and special pain management programs help to learn how to deal better with the severe complaints and thereby improve the quality of life.

Home remedies and exercises for neck pain

Stress, tension, fears and emotional stress are often the cause, as they literally “sit on the back of the neck” and cause painful tension there. In order to counteract this or to prevent neck pain caused by stress, it is accordingly necessary to take care of the soul and to ensure relaxation and inner peace using suitable techniques. There are various options for effective stress relief, whereby everyone has to find out for themselves which method is the right one. Among other things, autogenic training, Jacobson's progressive muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, meditation or hypnosis are possible, and there are also techniques in which the state of relaxation is achieved by careful movement sequences. In addition to yoga, e.g. the traditional Chinese martial art Tai-Chi Chuan (abbreviated "Tai-Chi") is an effective way to experience relaxation and thereby successfully fight against negative stress and the physical consequences. Characteristic of the so-called "Chinese shadow boxing" are slow-motion movements, which are carried out in combination with concentrated breathing.

Herbal remedies also offer beneficial support, because they can have a calming and relaxing effect and thus help to better manage stress. Valerian, lemon balm and St. John's wort have proven their worth. A tea made from passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) can also help with symptoms of stress, such as restlessness, anxiety and sleep disorders. For the preparation of the infusion, a heaping teaspoon of passionflower herb is poured over with about 200 ml of boiling water, left to steep for about six minutes and then drunk in small sips.
Aromatherapy can also be helpful in the case of severe or permanent stress, because the essential oils used have an overall positive effect on well-being and thus promote the reduction of internal tension. Fragrance oils from lavender, chamomile, marjoram and peppermint are particularly suitable for patients who suffer from tension and complaints such as neck or headache in connection with stress and pressure, e.g. can be used as a bath additive, in a fragrance lamp or in the form of a massage oil.

Prevention of neck pain

Movement is particularly important when it comes to preventing painful tension in the neck, shoulder or back area. In order to promote blood circulation and relax the muscles, regular (i.e. about two to three times a week) endurance sports such as e.g. Jogging, swimming or cycling, with each session lasting at least 30 minutes. It is particularly important that you choose a sport that is good and fun at the same time - because this increases the chance that it will be carried out in the long term. On the other hand, those who find it more "agony" to go for a jog after work quickly run the risk of losing motivation and soon stopping the sports program.

In general, care should be taken to prevent the neck from being relieved more often. Accordingly, it is advisable to check your own posture at regular intervals - especially if you are in the same position all day, e.g. working on the computer. Obesity can also quickly lead to postural problems and thus neck problems and should therefore be reduced.
In order to prevent tension-related pain in the neck from occurring in the first place, it is important to strengthen the muscles in this area and to stretch them regularly. Ideally, the training should be carried out regularly and above all according to professional instructions (e.g. by a fitness trainer) in order to avoid incorrect loads and damage. Even small exercises in everyday life often result in stronger and more relaxed muscles in the neck and shoulder area, thereby effectively preventing painful tension. (No)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dipl. Social Science Nina Reese


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Video: Neck pain symptoms and causes (May 2022).