Neck pain: Why does my neck hurt?
How can I get pain relief from my stiff neck and tight neck muscles?
Pinched nerves hurt, and large nerves in the neck that get pinched cause severe neck pain.Major nerves in the neck that branch off from the spine that go down into the arms and hands can sometimes get pressed upon in various ways and are pinched as they exit the spinal column. When this happens the pinched nerves are unable to properly conduct their signal. A pinched nerve in the neck can occur from a simple neck strain, or when a nerve is stretched abnormally by a protruding disc or misaligned spinal structures. A pinched nerve in the neck, also known as cervical radiculopathy, is an extremely common problem that causes the stiff neck and severe neck pain most everyone has experienced. This kind of tight sore neck is often caused by a minor muscle strain and typically calms down after a few days of resting and being more careful with the neck and upper body.
However, neck and shoulder pain can be more serious than just a simple wry neck from spasm of the neck muscles. When the shoulder and neck pain and muscle spasm of a pinched nerve does not show signs of improvement within a few days it then becomes important to seek professional help. What started out looking like a simple kink in the neck from too much housework or sleeping in an odd position might turn out to be an early sign of a degenerative spine condition like neck arthritis, cervical spondylosis or cervical stenosis, to name just a few common problems that start out looking like a common sore neck.
Causes of a pinched nerve lead to nerve compression and more
Nerve compression can happen anywhere in the body, causing irritation and inflammation of the very delicate nerve tissue, resulting in the nerve becoming super-excitable. In the upper part of the spine this compression not only causes neck sharp and stabbing pain and protective muscle spasm, but it interferes with that nerve’s ability to function at is should normally, which is reflected in the body in a variety of potential symptoms depending on the cause, location and degree of nerve compression.
A nerve can be pinched anywhere along its path. It is commonly compressed as it leaves the spine by a bulged or herniated disc, or bone spurs that are part of the changes of spinal arthritis. Regardless of where or how the nerve is pinched, symptoms of pain, numbness, tingling or weakness of the neck and arms occur. It is difficult to locate the area of actual pinching because these symptoms are registered in the brain as thought the entire nerve is involved when only one small part is being pinched.
Symptoms of nerve compression
Cervical spine nerve compression causes more than neck pain. It usually becomes a major problem by the 4th or 5th decade of life. Depending on the exact nerve or nerves being compressed, what part is being compressed and how much, other symptoms of a pinched nerve are:
- Soreness or stiffness – in the neck or extending into the arm and hands
- Muscle weakness – affecting the neck or arm muscles
- Headaches – usually on the same side as where the nerve is pinched, often at the base of the skull
- Pins-and-needles or tingling sensation – usually felt in one or more fingertips
- Numbness – usually felt in one or more fingertips
- Heat or cold sensation – felt along large areas of the upper extremities
Common symptoms associated with the nerve root pinching commonly are pain, numbness, tingling or weakness at:
C2 – base of the skull and temples
C3 – base of the skull, behind the eyes, and around the ears
C4 – base of neck and upper shoulder pain
C5 – thumb side of the upper arm
C6 – thumb side of the forearm, plus pain in the thumb and index fingers
C7 – area of the middle finger of the hand
C8 – area of the ring and little fingers
T1 – area of the little finger side of the forearm
Sore neck and shoulder pain
A pinched nerve, or as some might say a “crick in the neck,” is a fairly common problem for active as well as inactive people. For active people the high degree of neck flexibility can result in excessive movement of a spinal bone (vertebra) in times of fatigue, over work of neck muscles or excessive movement. For inactive people poor tone and tightness of the relatively small mass of neck muscles can allow poor neck mechanics and sloppy joint movement to occur which can cause soft tissue damage in the neck. Both situations are not good because the neck region of the spine must not only support the 10-13 pound the weight of the skull that rests on top of a flexible column of seven neck vertebrae, but the muscles, tendons, ligaments and discs are not large or abundant to do the work that is demanded of them. This combination of weight, flexibility and weak supporting structure makes it easy to develop neck and shoulder pain, and eventually leads to neck arthritis in many people by the time they are 40 years of age. A lifetime of minor injuries that cause a pinched nerve in the neck leads to a history of gradually worsening and more frequent pain between the shoulder blades and a sore neck. A pinched nerve in the neck can start with something as common as turning the head suddenly while backing the car out of the garage or while briskly towel-drying the hair.
As an individual grows older and accumulates the effects of repeated small and large neck strain, the cervical spine slowly and gradually begins to show the results of normal wear and tear on the soft tissue of the neck that eventually leads changes in the bone structure, or cervical arthritis. In the early stages of deterioration of the soft tissue and cervical spine there is not much neck pain, pain between the shoulder blades or discomfort in the arms or hands. But as the nerve compression eventually becomes more wide spread and worse, a pattern of chronically pinched nerves in the neck begins to emerge. Neck pain becomes easier to provoke with less and less stress or movement; neck muscles stay in a constant state of spasm; a dull sore neck becomes the norm; and a stiff neck always seems to limit full movement.
Neck pain treatment for a pinched nerve
Of the many treatment options for shoulder and neck pain, the one that will work best is the one that is closest to solving the reason for the pinched nerve pain. When neck pain is due to nerve compression it is important to include a direct and appropriate pinched nerve treatment for best results. If nerve compression or a pinched nerve in the neck is causing pain and related symptoms of numbness, coldness, tingling or weakness, conservative treatment measures are usually sufficient to completely reduce the compression and neck pain within a few weeks.
Conservative treatment to get neck pain relief from a pinched nerve can use one or more of the following:
- Rest for no more than 48-72 hours, followed by slow introduction of light activity
- Application of cold/heat packs
- Neck stretches to reduce swelling and increase range of motion aids recovery
- Low impact strengthening exercise
- Cervical collar or brace to limit the amount of movement and prevent further nerve compression in the early stages of activity
- Deep tissue massage to the area of chief complaint
- Static neck traction to open joint spaces and reduce soft tissue fixation
- Light manual manipulation to involved spinal segments
- Acupressure or acupuncture in the local area and related areas that influence the neck
- Limited and conservative use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
If all conservative measures have been thoroughly explored and found ineffective to reduce the symptoms of the pinched nerve, surgery can be considered an appropriate option.
Never ignore a pinched nerve because severe permanent damage that could result in permanent pain, atrophy and lost sensation. Most neck pain that arises from a pinched nerve will naturally resolve spontaneously in less than a month. Do not fail to inform your personal doctor or chiropractor if your problem lasts longer than this, and allow him or her to make a diagnosis and determine the correct course treatment for your pinched nerve.