Pain in the Neck

Remember the days when you were first dating. You would get a pain in your neck – likely from having too much fun – and your boyfriend or girlfriend would gently and lovingly rub it until you felt better. Those days are long gone. I have more pains in my neck now – usually from trying to talk on the phone while sweeping the floor or folding laundry. My husband, and he’s generally a good husband, will respond to my complaining with a sympathetic, “Oh, I hate when that happens. Happened to me last week from holding Shane all night.” There, in a nutshell, is the difference between dating and marriage. Doesn’t bother me much though. The lack of desire to rub goes both ways.

1. What is a crick in the neck? Crick isn’t really a medical term but any English-speaking doctor will know what you are talking about. Usually, it occurs when you wake in the morning, is generally isolated to one side and will hurt more with certain movements.

2. What can cause it? The jury remains out on this one but most experts agree that benign pain in the neck is caused by a muscle spasm. If you wake with it, it is likely from holding your head in a strange way while you were sleeping. My grandmother would say it happens when you sleep with the window open. Possibly, a cool breeze will make you curl up more than usual but the pain itself is not from the cold. If it happens during waking hours, consider what you were doing right before you experienced the tightness or pain. Holding the phone to  your ear with your shoulder is often the culprit. Pain in the neck can also be caused by poor posture.

3. How to treat it. More often than not, you don’t need to see your doctor. Initially, treat it very gently with some mild stretching, ibuprofen or tylenol, heat and massage. If you are married, you will have to pay for the massage. If the pain persists, (see number 5) a muscle relaxant, physical therapy and diagnostic imaging may be prescribed.

4. How to prevent it. Preventing a crick in the neck is much more useful than treating it. Pay attention. In addition to sleeping in a bad position and talking on the phone, too much texting, slouching, poor ergonomics at the computer, and one-sided carrying of heavy bags can also be blamed. Adjust or eliminate the cause. Consider a new pillow if you wake with neck or back pain frequently. Depending on your preferred sleeping position, there are different pillow recommendations. The idea is to keep your neck in a neutral position while sleeping – not flexed or extended. The pillow that seems most comfortable when you first lie down may not be the one that will keep you in the right position all night long. If your pillow is old, consider investing in a new, neck-friendly one. Also, stretching exercises and yoga will help to keep the muscles and joints in your neck loose and healthy.

5. When to see a doctor. The above is assuming there is no underlying neck disease. Other than muscle spasm and tightness, more serious causes of neck pain are spinal abnormalities, disc disease, arthritis, infection and cancer. If your pain is severe and persists despite home treatment, and/or if it is accompanied by numbness and tingling in the arms and hands, make an appointment. If your neck pain is associated with a fever, call your doctor right away.

I am typing this entry hunched over the kitchen table while the twins are pretending to eat their dinner. Enter back pain. Do what I say, not what I do. I am off to take care of all the important little pains in the neck right now. Do you believe you have to feed this kids everyday??


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