Neck Pain

A stiff, sore or painful neck can be scary.
Learn about your neck, and how State 11 can help with your neck pain

Your neck is made up of the seven vertebrae at the top of your spinal column, as well as the various nerves, blood vessels ligaments, tendons and muscles that surround them, connecting your neck upwards to your head, and downwards to the rest of your back, shoulders and chest.

What is the neck?

Unlike most other bones in the body, the vertebrae have quite a complex structure; they have a circular ‘hole’ in the, known as the vertebral foramen, when the spinal cord passes through. The vertebrae in the neck have two other holes to allow the arteries and veins that pass blood to and from the head to travel through.

Between each vertebrae, and acting as both connectors and “shock absorbers” are intervertebral discs. The discs create space that allow a number of major nerves to branch out from the spinal cord to other areas of the body. The vertebrae are also connected to each other by “facet joints” – that’s the knobbly bit you can feel sometimes. 

A number of muscles also connect into the neck, and it’s these muscles, along with the design of the vertebrate, discs and facet joints, that allows your neck to move both left and right (technically known as rotation) and up and down (known as flexion)

Medically, this area is referred to as your cervical spine or c-spine, the seven vertebrae in it are referred to as C1 all the way through to C7 (C1 is sometime called the atlas and C2 is sometimes called the axis); all in all, it’s a pretty complex area.

A computer illustration of a woman highlighting pain in the cervical spine

There are many different types of pain that can be caused by neck issues.

Most people will suffer with neck pain at some point in their lives, and this can be as a result of a physical injury (such as whiplash), a prolonged strain (such as sleeping badly) or as a combination of a strain and emotional or mental health issue (such as neck pain from constantly having your shoulders hunched). Because the ligaments, tendons and muscles in the neck connect to the shoulder, back, chest and jaw, it’s possible that issues in the neck can cause pain elsewhere. This is also true with nerve pain. The nerves that come out of the spaces between the vertebrae in the neck can becomes trapped at the neck, but the pain can be felt anywhere along the nerve’s path, so tingling fingers can sometimes be caused by an issue in the neck.

The muscles at the back of the neck attach to different vertebrae between the male body and the female body, meaning that men and women will often feel neck pain quite differently.

Over-Exertion Muscle Pain In The Neck

This is perhaps the most common type of neck pain, and it’s main symptom is being unable to turn (or rotate) your neck as far as you normally can, or look up or down as well as usual. There might be only one range of movement that is difficult, or it might be all movement. It’ll often feel like it radiates down in the shoulders.

 This often happens after the shoulder and neck muscles have been in over-exerted in some way – so perhaps after a long gym session but also if you’ve spent all day with your shoulders up round your ears because you’ve been stressed or anxious. This type of muscle pain is also what you might get if you’re sat under a cold air vent or in a draft.

 Warming the area, trying to relax and anti-inflammatories can help with this pain. Soft tissue therapy is excellent for helping the muscles relax, and RAPID NFR can help the body get rid of any inflammation that has built up.

Differences between men’s neck muscles and women’s neck muscles shown on an anatomical drawing
A bearded man looking unwell and holding his neck in pain

Spasming Muscle Pain In The Neck

This is perhaps the second most common type of neck pain, and it’s the one most people experience when they wake up in the morning and find that their neck is really stiff and sore, and they can’t move it in any range. Here, the neck muscles have gone into spasm, and whilst the spasm might release over time, the ache is likely to remain for some hours (or even days) afterwards. Neck muscle spasms can be caused by sleeping in an uncomfortable position, but (like over-exertion pain), it can also be caused by stress that cause the shoulders to become and neck muscles to tighten in response to an emotional stimulus.

Keeping the area warm and trying to relax can help with this issue. Painkillers can also help, although this will depend on your own personal health circumstances. If it is possible to touch the area, then massage and RAPID NFR can help, as can kinseology taping. If this is an issue that occurs regularly, and can be linked to an emotional stimulus, it may be worth investigating how to deal with the issue that is causing the spasming to occur.

Facet Joint Neck Pain

The facet joints are the joints between the vertebrae that allow the neck to rotate and flex. This is often described as feeling like a deep pain, that will either feel like a deep ache or a sharp pain (although still deep in the neck). Generally this will feel worse upon trying to do a particular movement (so leaning the head left might be fine but leaning the head right isn’t). This type of pain can feel like it’s radiating into the shoulders or into the upper back, and is common in people who have arthritis in the cervical spine after a period of inactivity.

Trying to keep the neck warm and moving here is often helpful, as is heat and anti-inflammatories or arthritis medication if this ha been prescribed.

A man holding his neck in pain, because his neck hurts
A woman being treated for head and neck pain

Neck Pain Due To Headaches

Although people don’t often think about the fact there are muscles and nerves in their head and scalp, there are! It’s muscles and nerves that allow you to raise your eyebrows (or furrow them when people are being frustrating!), wiggle your ears or wrinkle your forehead, along with the occipital muscles that control movement of the eyes. All of these muscles can become tense, spasm or suffer strain (for instance, if you are squinting a lot) and that can lead to a headache that radiates into the neck. Neck pain from headaches will feel like a dull, aching pain, and will often increase if the neck or head is moved, even to the point of nausea.

Many people will resort to painkillers of one variety or other for headaches, and this will often relieve the pain the in neck too. If this is a common pain, it is often worth having an eyesight test, or learning techniques to deal with stress and anxiety. There are particular self-massage techniques focusing on the scalp that can help with shortening both the length of time and intensity of this type of headache, although they can be uncomfortable at the time of massage.

Neck Pain Due To Nerve Issues

Many nerves branch off the spinal cord and flow to other parts of the body from the cervical spine, including nerves that run down arms and fingers. These nerves can sometime become irritated or trapped due to muscle tenseness or spasms. This can result in either a sharp or severe but fleeting pain, or tingling, like pins and needles, that just doesn’t seem to go away. This tingling can be felt at any point along the nerve, so tingling fingers can be due to a trapped nerve in the neck or shoulders.

Although medication to control nerve pain can often be prescribed for this issue, it is also worth investigating manual therapy with a therapist who can work with nerve pain. At State 11, we have had frequent success helping people with trapped nerves that have caused issues across both the head, arms and hands.

A woman holding the back of her neck in pain
A man holding his neck suffering with chronic pain

Referred Pain In The Neck

Pain in the neck doesn’t always mean that there is an issue with the neck itself. Similar to how a headache can cause neck pain, or tense shoulders can cause neck pain, issues in other parts of the body can cause neck pain. An example of this would be finding that your neck hurts upon eating. This would be likely to indicate a problem with the oesophagus.

If you notice that your neck pain occurs as a result of doing something else (such as eating, or during exercise) then you should seek advice from your doctor, taking with you a list of activities that cause the pain to occur.

Bone Pain In The Neck

Pain in the actual vertebrae is uncommon but will require assessment by a doctor as it can be a sign of a more serious issue.

Neck Pain Due to Aging.

The medical pain for neck pain due to ageing is cervical spondylosis. It’s a normal part of ageing, since as we get older, the discs can become dehydrated or herniated, and the ligaments in the neck can also stiffen with age, meaning they’re not as flexible. Certain types of jobs (such as work that involve awkward postures or craning the neck up or down a lot) can heighten the risk of cervical spondylosis, and there are some suggestions of links to smoking and genetic factors.

Interestingly, studies where people with no self-reported neck pain have been given MRI scans have shown that – despite their lack of pain – there are signs of cervical spondylosis, suggesting that this problem does not always result in pain.

When cervical spondylosis does cause pain, doctors will often prescribe painkillers, although exercise and massage or manual therapy (such as offered here at State 11) can help a great deal.

An older woman with grey hair having sports massage treatment on her back

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