Today I want to talk to you about lower neck pain.
Have you ever woken up with a neck kink?
Have you been suffering with neck pain from an injury, or just turned your head funny and are still experiencing pain from it?
If you’re looking for lower neck pain relief, this is the article for you.
We’re going to talk about:
- What causes lower neck pain
- The difference between a pinched nerve and a pulled muscle
- A few things you can do to help relieve lower neck pain
- A few frequently asked questions about lower neck pain
And finally, how to get some expert help to fix the root cause of your lower neck pain for good and be able to get back to doing what you love without that annoying lower neck pain, pain in your shoulders, and headaches that can come along with lower neck pain.
What causes lower neck pain?
Here are the 3 common reasons why your neck hurts:
- Poor posture. A lot of people are working from home or working at desks. It’s really important to have your workstation set up to be able to have your body in the best position while working, especially if you’re working in front of a computer for a long time. Having the correct set up for your computer with the correct ergonomic positioning is important to make sure that there is not excess stress on your neck and the structure of your neck.
- A traumatic injury. Most of the time this would be because of a fall or some kind of collision, say a car crash (whiplash). So, if people experience a sudden collision where their neck is moved in one direction quickly, they can sustain an injury because of that.
- Degenerative changes over time. This can be a combination of the two causes I mentioned above. There’s some wear and tear that can happen over time that can start to cause some irritation of the tissues in the neck. Whatever the cause of your lower neck pain, it is quite common for people to wake up and unexpectedly have a painful kink in their neck.
Now that we know the most common causes of lower neck pain, where is the pain actually coming from?
Here are 3 common sources of neck pain:
- A pinched nerve. There are nerves that start in your spinal cord and exit in between the bones in your neck that service the sensations in your arms, as well as provide the muscles with their connection to the brain. If those nerves can be pinched in your neck, that can cause pain in your neck.
- A pulled muscle or strained ligament.
- The actual joints of your neck (facet joints) can become irritated, stuck, or out of alignment.
Neck Pain: Pinched Nerve or Pulled Muscle?
One question that we get a lot is “how do you know the difference between a pinched nerve and a pulled muscle?“
Well, they can have a lot of the same symptoms of stiffness, difficulty turning your head, and pain that radiates from the lower neck up into the head or the shoulders.
However, the one big difference between nerve pain and a pulled muscle is, when you have a pinched nerve, most people will describe feeling numbness, tingling, burning, and electricity-type sensations down the neck and even sometimes the arm and hand.
A pulled muscle is generally isolated to one area and can be sore with movement and sore to the touch of that specific muscle.
Another question I get: “is hot or cold better for neck pain?”
I’ll give you a general rule of thumb, however try both and see which one works best for you.
It is best to use COLD if you have a new injury or any degree of swelling. For example, if you recently had a fall or you were doing some kind of physical activity and the pain came on immediately, then it’s best to use cold to help control the inflammation. In addition, the cold provides you with some temporary pain relief.
If your pain is more chronic and has been with you for a long time (two or more weeks) then try HEAT. Also, your neck feels stiff, sore, and you have knots, most likely a heating pad is going to feel better to loosen it up.
It is worth mentioning, both hot or cold pack are temporary solutions, as they don’t address the root cause of the pain (only serve to relieve it for a little while).
Physical Therapy for Neck Pain Relief
Speaking of getting to the root cause: the best way to get rid of your neck pain is to work with an expert.
For example, a physical therapist is able to evaluate the reasons why you have neck pain in the first place.
They can address the muscles in your neck and shoulder area to find out which muscles are weak and which ones are tight. If you’re local to the area, working with a physical therapist in Austin, Texas might be exactly what you need.
Many times, people don’t think about core strength when they’re talking about their neck. However, we talk about core strength for your lower back all the time! Your neck has core muscles as well, and it’s important that we make sure they’re doing the work and are strong enough to support your neck in the right position.
There are also lots of other muscles in your upper back and shoulder area that need to be strong to maintain posture throughout the day so that your neck doesn’t have extra stress.
There are many people that have become stiff over time because of poor posture, past injuries, or sitting at their desk for a long period of time, and it’s important to make sure that we stretch and mobilize those muscles and joints to make sure that they allow you to get into a proper position.
In conclusion, a physical therapist at our Natural Fit Therapy location in North Austin can teach you how to move correctly to reduce the stress in your neck. A lot of people feel like injections or surgery are the only options, but we’ve found that a combination of manual therapy along with specific guided exercises is the best way to relieve lower neck pain.