Neck pain most commonly arises in the soft tissues of the neck, including muscles, nerves, cervical discs, and ligaments. Within the soft tissue, pain can be caused by wear and tear or, of course, an injury like a sprain. Neck problems can also be a source of pain in surrounding body structures, like your head, upper back, shoulders, or arms.
Degeneration of Cervical Soft Tissue
Among the soft tissue abnormalities of your neck, spondylosis is among the most common. The condition is characterized by cervical disc degeneration, typically in people older than 40. When discs degenerate, your neck loses some of the shock absorption it provides. The space between vertebrae then narrows. Sometimes a disc in the neck can bulge and compress the spinal cord and/or nerve roots. This is called a herniated disc.
Arthritis is another common degenerative condition of the neck. It causes the vertebral cartilage to break down, due to aging or earlier injuries (or a combination of both). The degeneration of cartilage also causes narrowing of the space between vertebrae and the nerves in the cervical spinal cord are pinched or compressed. The nerves become inflamed, resulting in neck pain. Additionally, because the vertebrae are degenerating, even a minor injury to the neck can cause symptoms.
Symptoms of spondylosis and cervical spine arthritis:
- Neck pain
- Muscle weakness
- Limited mobility of the neck
- Loss of balance
Treatment Options for Spondylosis & Cervical Spine Arthritis
- Physical therapy and home exercises
- Ergonomic and posture modifications
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Corticosteroid injection
- Surgery, for extreme cases of cervical arthritis, to remove the part of the bone compressing the spinal cord
Degenerative neck conditions cause a weaker neck and can contribute to fractures in any of the seven vertebrae that help form your neck. A cervical fracture results in severe pain and if it damages your spinal cord, potential paralysis.
Falls and accidents are common causes of cervical fractures, and people who have osteoporosis are more prone to neck fractures.
Symptoms of a Cervical Fracture
- Severe neck pain
- Inflammation around the injury site
Treatment Options for Cervical Fracture
- Cervical collar to aid healing in minor fractures
- Traction and/or bracing for spine realignment
What Is the Best Pillow for Neck Pain?
Your sleeping position can play a major role in helping you avoid neck pain. Keep in mind that your head should remain parallel to your sleeping surface–not titled up or down. Your pillow should promote this parallel positioning; cervical contour pillows adapt to your neck contour and can help you achieve that.
Dr. Andrew Bang of the Cleveland Clinic provides other “pillow tips” that can help you minimize neck pain:
- Latex foam pillows provide the best neck stability; feather pillows provide the worst
- Body and side pillows can improve your sleep posture–particularly if you’re in the bad habit of sleeping on your stomach–as they help your spine stay in alignment