What is cervicalgia and how is it treated?
Cervicalgia is not usually a serious condition, but it can cause discomfort and should be addressed directly.
This article will discuss what cervicalgia is and how it can be treated and prevented.
What is cervicalgia?
The neck, also known as the cervical spine, is tasked with both protecting the spinal cord and supporting the head while allowing for a good range of movement.
It is made up of bones, nerves, muscles, ligaments, and tendons that are structured to allow the neck to be protective while remaining flexible.
This capacity to be flexible also makes the neck structure vulnerable to damage, particularly given that it is constantly under pressure from keeping the head upright.
Some movements put either gradual or a sudden, sharp pressure on the neck, and the resulting strain can cause discomfort. The injury is called cervicalgia when it only occurs in the neck region and not in other areas, such as in the arms or lower back.
Cervicalgia can have many different causes. Some of the most common include:
- Poor posture or lengthy periods with the neck at an awkward angle, such as when sleeping or working at a desk.
- Injuries that involve a sudden neck movement, such as whiplash from a car crash or an impact sport.
- Long-term stress that causes clenching of neck and shoulder muscles, leading to a strain on the neck.
- Bone conditions, such as arthritis or osteoporosis. As these conditions are more common in older people, age is a risk factor for cervicalgia.
- Diseases or conditions that affect the spine, such as spinal infections or meningitis.
Certain sports can cause kyphosis, a condition affecting posture in a way that strains the neck. Kyphosis can also lead to cervicalgia.
The shoulders can be pushed forward and become rounded, putting pressure on the neck. This pressure can occur from sports that promote this posture, such as cycling, or certain bodybuilding programs that build up chest muscles more than the back muscles.
Cervicalgia is marked by a pain in the neck region, which can either be a sharp, stabbing pain or a dull, persistent pain.
The severity of the pain will vary depending on the extent of the injury, and most cases of cervicalgia only cause mild discomfort.
Other symptoms of cervicalgia can include:
- stiffness in neck muscles
- spasms in neck muscles
- impaired neck movement
- tenderness in shoulders
The management of cervicalgia will vary depending on the cause. In the majority of cases, it can be treated at home.
Cervicalgia will typically go away within a couple of weeks. People should see a doctor if the pain lasts for longer than a few weeks, or immediately if the pain occurred as a direct result of an injury.
It is important to avoid any activities that may be causing a neck strain, such as cycling, and to rest the neck as much as possible. If the injury has occurred from poor posture, it is important to address this immediately and improve the posture.
Different approaches can be taken to treat cervicalgia at home:
- Ice packs can be applied to the affected area for up to 20 minutes several times a day. This can be useful in reducing inflammation caused by a neck injury.
- Heat can also be applied to help boost healing, such as through a hot shower or warm towel.
- Over-the-counter medications, such as anti-inflammatories or pain relievers, can be helpful in managing cervicalgia.
- Massaging the area will help to increase blood flow and encourage healing.
- Collars around the neck will support the head and restrict movement, removing pressure from the area.
- Stretching the neck by moving the head into different positions can be beneficial, but this should only be attempted when it feels comfortable to do so.
In some cases, more serious treatment will be necessary, including a physical therapy program or even surgery to reduce discomfort.
It is also possible for cervicalgia to be a sign of a more concerning condition, such as a spinal infection.
Medical attention must be sought immediately if other symptoms develop, such as feelings of numbness or shooting pains in the arms. These symptoms may signal a bigger problem that needs urgent intervention.
While cervicalgia is a common problem, it is possible to lower the risk of it occurring through some simple lifestyle changes.
Improving posture throughout the day
Maintaining a good posture when seated or standing is an effective method of preventing cervicalgia. Good posture provides support to the neck.
For example, when working at a desk, good posture can be maintained through keeping the knees bent at 90-degree angle, with both feet flat on the floor and the neck in a neutral position.
Improving posture throughout the night
The body is inactive for a long time when someone is sleeping, so it is beneficial to maintain a good posture during sleep. People should avoid sleeping on the stomach or in a position whereby the neck is twisted or bent.
It can help to use a supportive pillow that keeps the neck straight, or keeping a pillow between the legs if sleeping on the side.
Engaging in stress reduction techniques, such as meditation or physical exercise, can reduce the strain placed on the shoulders and neck, which often occurs unconsciously.
Staying active can help to reduce the risk of cervicalgia developing. It can also be useful to engage in certain types of physical exercise, such as those that target the upper back muscles to help prevent shoulders from rounding.
Cervicalgia is a common problem that can affect anyone. The majority of cases are not severe and can be treated at home.
The symptoms usually go away within a couple of weeks. However, some cases may require medical treatment should pain persist beyond a few weeks, or if a more serious condition is suspected.
Ensuring a good posture that provides a sufficient level of support for the neck is an important part of preventing cervicalgia from developing.
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