The neck is required to support your 8-12lb head every day, allow you to swivel, look up, look down, and protect your spinal cord, as it exits your skull and transmits all the messages from the brain that control every function in your body. What could go wrong there, right?
The neck, like the lower back, is a complex structure, made up of bones discs, joints, ligaments, and muscles that protect your spinal cord, hold up the head, and allow you to twist and turn the head. It also is a pathway for food, water, oxygen and blood. Whiplash injuries are a common cause of neck pain, as well as spinal disc degeneration, but it can also be caused by simple everyday things like sitting at a computer, reading, watching TV, sleeping in a bad position, or from plain old stress that leads to tension in the muscles.
The facet joints running up the backside of the spine, and the discs between the bones are 2 very common sources of neck pain. Injury or tension within these joints will irritate the delicate, pain sensitive nerves in the region, sending signals to the brain. The brain will respond to these pain signals by tightening the muscles in the area, in an attempt to protect the nerves from further injury. Unfortunately the resulting muscle spasm often times exacerbates the situation. Pain will often begin to radiate from the source as well, resulting in shoulder pain, arm pain, and/or headaches.
When treating neck pain, it is important to first diagnose exactly what is leading to the pain, and then work towards correcting the problem. A simple diagnosis of Cervicalgia (neck pain) with some prescription muscle relaxers, pain killers, and anti inflammatory medication, will do a great job of masking the symptoms, but often do nothing to correct the root of the problem.
If you should ever suffer from a neck injury or develop neck pain, I highly recommend that you deal with the correction of the mechanical and functional problems within the spine and its surrounding structures as quickly as possible. Trying to gut it out, and hoping it will go away, often leads to chronic pain. Chronic pain is much more difficult to resolve, than new, acute pain. We treat mechanical dysfunction of the spine with chiropractic adjustments, physiotherapy, exercise, stretching, massage, and patient education. Learning about your neck and knowing the proper posture, ergonomics, and how to keep it strong will empower you to maintain a healthy spine.