When your neck hurts

When your neck hurts

Neck-shoulder-arm syndrome, cervical syndrome, cervicobrachial syndrome, cervicocephalic syndrome – all these terms come from the context of neck pain. What to do with neck pain? We provide information about the causes, symptoms, course and treatment of neck pain.

Definition of neck pain

Neck pain is a pain in the neck region of various causes, which can also radiate to the shoulders, arms or head. A feeling of dizziness and headache is often inevitable.


Neck Pain: Common Causes

Neck pain can be a symptom of many very different diseases, mainly in the area of ​​the cervical spine and the shoulder and chest. The most common are overuse problems in the local muscles and soft tissue caused by incorrect static posture  (e.g. working at the computer).

Furthermore, the cervical spine is subject to chronic wear and tear with increasing age. Like the lumbar spine, this can affect intervertebral discs and vertebral joints, leading to herniated discs or vertebral blockages.

Rare causes of neck pain

Other, but much rarer causes are:

In addition to these diseases of the cervical spine, shoulder joint diseases can also lead to neck pain. These are mainly arthrosis of the shoulder joint, inflammation of the bursa surrounding the shoulder joint, tears in the tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint or other shoulder injuries.

Internal diseases such as the coronary vessels ( angina pectoris, myocardial infarction) can also trigger shoulder or neck pain.

It is not uncommon for chronically recurring neck pain to be an expression of mental stress or stressful situations without an orthopaedic cause.


Neck pain: interpreting symptoms correctly

Neck pain can occur in any age group but increases with age. An accumulation in females is described. Cervical syndrome is characterized by pure neck pain, often radiating to the shoulder, and without neurological symptoms. It is not uncommon for the painfully tense muscles to lead to a stiff neck with complete blockage of the mobility of the cervical spine (wry neck).

If, in addition to neck pain, radiating pain, paralysis or sensory disturbances occur in the arms or hands, this is referred to as a cervico-brachial syndrome or neck-shoulder-arm syndrome. This is mainly caused by nerve irritation (herniated discs, inflammation, bone growths, tumours) in the lower cervical spine.

The cervicocephalic syndrome, on the other hand, describes the occurrence of headaches (dizziness, ringing in the ears, blurred vision) with or without additional neck pain. These are often caused by psychologically stressful situations, more rarely by injuries or circulatory disorders in the cervical spine.

Diagnosis and course of neck pain

Due to the variety of causes, the possible diagnostics in this area are very diverse. The clinical examination of the cervical spine about local pain points, muscle hardening, and mobility is a matter of course. X-rays of the cervical spine in four planes are also standard.

Depending on the course (acute/chronic), anamnesis and degree of symptoms, additional imaging procedures or neurological examination techniques should follow.

Neck pain due to muscular tension is usually benign and temporary. Neck pain due to wear and tear, conditions after injuries to the cervical spine, and neurological or rheumatic diseases generally take a chronic course with phases of acute pain and phases of relative freedom from symptoms. Of course, this depends on the underlying disease.

Pain in the neck: Complications

Due to the variety of possible causes, different complications are also possible in the course. No complications are known for purely muscular, tension-related neck pain.

If signs of paralysis appear in the arms and legs, further diagnostic measures should be taken.


Treatment and therapy of neck pain

In the foreground of neck pain treatment are physiotherapy and physical-therapeutic measures as described under low back pain. In the acute stage, symptomatic therapy, i.e. the administration of painkillers and temporary relief of the cervical spine, is usually sufficient.

For example, this relief can be achieved with a Schanz tie (neck cuff) made of foam and, in severe cases, a more stable neck collar made of plastic. A neck roll or a corresponding ergonomically shaped neck pillow can relieve the cervical spine.

In longer courses and the chronic stage, physiotherapeutic and physical-therapeutic measures should be the basis of treatment.

Alternative treatment for neck pain

In addition, complementary medicine methods, such as acupuncture or naturopathic procedures, can be used here. In addition, a variety of injection treatments and unique catheter methods can be used to relieve pain.

Depending on the actual cause of the symptom of neck pain, surgical interventions can be considered after a precise diagnosis has been made and all conservative treatment options have been exhausted. The development of modern spinal surgery towards more microsurgical and less stressful surgical techniques offers a wide range of therapeutic options.

Pain in the neck – preventive measures

Avoiding monotonous stress and poor posture, for example, at work, is essential in preventing neck pain.

Ergonomically shaped neck pillows or neck rolls prevent position-dependent tension during sleep.

Exercises to strengthen the neck muscles can also help prevent neck pain.

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