Acute Neck Pain

While we joking call anything that is annoying us a “pain in the neck,” real acute neck pain is no laughing matter. Acute neck pain, described as neck pain that is sudden and intense, can occur because of many different causes, from worry and stress to a traumatic injury.


Here we’ll take a look at some of the causes of acute neck pain and what can be done to rid yourself of that pain in the neck and avoid it in the future.


Getting to know the neck


Understanding the makeup of the neck can help us understand what is causing the pain and can give us better clues to diagnosis and treatment. The neck is made up of the top seven vertebrae of the spine, known as the cervical vertebrae. Between the vertebrae are cushions or shock absorbers called intervertebral discs, which are made up of fibrous connective tissues which protect a gel-like centre.


The sides of the bones are connected by facet joints. There are also many muscles and ligaments that are connected to the spine and fan out to the back and shoulder blades which control the movement of the head. At each disc level, nerves branch out from the spinal cord to other parts of the body. In this case, the nerves that come from the neck control the arms.


Causes of Acute Neck Pain


The most common sort of acute neck pain is considered to be non-specific neck pain, which can come on suddenly after being in a draught for a significant amount of time or after a minor twisting injury. The pain from this kind of injury usually only lasts a few days and symptoms wouldn’t even appear as abnormal in an x-ray or CT scan.


Whiplash can certainly qualify as both sudden and intense. This sort of injury most often occurs as the result of a rear-end collision in a car, in which the body is first violently forced forward followed by the head flipping backwards. The pain and stiffness associated with whiplash may be delayed. While whiplash can badly damage the neck, in most cases there is no major damage and the patient will recover in a matter of days or weeks.


There are a number of causes that are associated with growing older. As we age, both the intervertebral discs and the bones themselves are affected, as the discs become thinner, making the space between the vertebrae closer together. Bone spurs can also form at the edges of the vertebrae or the facet joints. Often, these changes don’t produce pain, but worn joints, stretched ligaments or bulging discs putting pressure on nerve roots or the spinal cord can all be painful.


Diagnosis and Treatment of Acute Neck Pain


While acute neck pain will often sort itself out, if it persists for an extended period of time or gets worse instead of better, it may be wise to consult your doctor. He will diagnose the problem using a combination of your medical history and a physical examination, including testing the neck movement, muscles, joints of the spine, neck and arms, or testing for pinched nerves.


He may also wish to have a CT scan or MRI performed in order to get a more precise diagnosis. For short term pain associated with acute neck pain, the most common treatments are chiropractic or physiotherapy and medicine to help relieve the pain.