When you come in with neck pain into the Ascot osteopathy clinic, you’ll find I ask a lot of questions. The main reason for this is to find out if your neck pain is what we call ‘mechanical’ neck pain or if it could be something else which might require a referral to another kind of clinician such as your GP, a neurologist or an orthopaedic consultant.
Thankfully, much like back pain, the most common causes of neck pain are mechanical.
What kinds of things cause neck pain?
Necks tend to suffer from postural ‘strains’ and from neck ‘cricks’, as well as being susceptible to problems caused by high-velocity impacts such as whiplash causing events or high speed falls or sporting accidents.
Muscle strains in the neck are most commonly caused by turning the head rapidly or as a consequence of some kind of impact where the head has been shaken i.e. a whiplash injury. A lot of muscular pain can be caused by holding awkward sustained postures.
And, we all know what it is like to wake up with a stiff neck, with that awful pinching feeling that sometimes radiates down into the shoulder or upper back. This is often caused by an irritated facet joint in the neck. Facet joint irritations are very common and many people describe the pain as a ‘nerve’ pain simply because it is so sharp and unlike anything else.
Our lifestyles can affect our neck and experience of neck pain in more ways than one. Although there is no “perfect posture” and there is no evidence supporting ‘bad posture’ as a cause of pain, our lifestyles of sitting a lot in very static postures means our posture doesn’t change enough. THAT can be a cause of pain. Very commonly this affects the muscles of the neck at the base of the skull and causes pain and tension across the tops of the shoulders. It can also lead to headaches.
Typically this kind of mechanical neck pain is resolved by simply moving more and avoiding staying in any one posture for too long.
Another common cause of neck pain is a sharp pain, often felt in the morning on waking up – you could call this a “neck crick”. The most common cause of this is sleeping awkwardly or tossing and turning with a bad night’s sleep. Laying awkwardly for a long period of time can irritate the small facet joints of the neck. This irritation is painful and also can cause muscle spasm which makes it very painful to move. Hence that sharp feeling and tension that makes it hard to move your head either up OR down, and sometimes makes it hard to look over one shoulder.
What if it is not physical neck pain?
Most neck pain is mechanical and relatively straightforward. There are some kinds of neck pain that are more serious, however, and so you should always get neck pain checked out by a qualified person like myself. This is where the questions come in. I need to determine if there’s a chance your neck pain might be of a more serious variety, or of a type that needs another opinion from a different kind of medical professional.
But, If more serious kinds of pain are ruled out by your history and examination, most mechanical neck problems are easy to resolve within a few days with a little bit of gentle manual therapy, proprioception exercise, desensitisation manoeuvres and pain education – alongside sound gentle self-care advice. If your neck pain is chronic or longstanding, there are even more techniques I can do to help you with.