If you’re experiencing neck pain, it may be caused by a specific spinal problem that can be diagnosed and treated, such as arthritis, nerve compression, infection, fracture, or a tumor or other growth. However, most neck pain is defined as nonspecific, which means that it isn’t caused by any specific pathology. Read on to learn more about treatment options for nonspecific neck pain.
Common causes for nonspecific neck pain include strain on the neck (for example, bending it for a long period of time or sleeping on an unfamiliar pillow) as well as age related wear and tear. Usually, neck pain is defined as nonspecific unless it is combined with pain traveling down the arm or weakness in the hands. If you do have either of those symptoms, however, your doctor will recommend imaging tests to determine the cause of your pain.
While nonspecific neck pain has no cure, it typically resolves itself after a few days. You can help alleviate some of the pain with home remedies, such as stretching, rest, and over the counter anti-inflammatory medications. Your doctor can recommend exercises that may help. Applying heat or ice might also be helpful.
Another recommendation is to attempt to identify the triggers of your neck pain–for example, stress, a certain type of physical activity, or sleeping on a certain pillow–and avoiding those triggers. If you find that your pain manifests at the end of the work day, adjust your chair and workstation to provide ergonomic relief. Daily activity, even if it is as minor as taking a walk, can often help improve your overall well-being and help alleviate pain symptoms. In general, doctors avoid prescribing medications for neck pain unless it persists for longer than a few days and is not resolved with over the counter medications combined with self care strategies.
One of the most common causes of specific neck pain is a whiplash injury, typically associated with a car accident. If you’re involved in a collision, see your doctor right away if you have neck pain so that they can rule out a broken bone and recommend the treatment that will best resolve your pain. Routine treatments for whiplash are usually very similar to those for nonspecific neck pain.
If your neck pain is combined with headaches, it’s important to determine what triggers these headaches so that your doctor can help you treat the cause rather than the symptoms. Common causes include certain foods, stress, lack of sleep, tension, and poor posture. Headaches can also be related to a stiff neck, in which case your doctor can recommend exercises that may be beneficial.