Neck discomfort is a common reason for medical or physiotherapy consultation. We believe it is important to know the causes more frequently associated with discomfort around the neck to better protect against it.

Here is an article to explain in more detail the anatomical structures that make up the neck, which can be affected by discomfort. Of course, we will also discuss their causes.

A short lesson in anatomy

The neck represents the upper part of the spine. This region is made up of 7 vertebrae (C1 to C7), which are separated from each other by vertebral discs. The latter is composed primarily of cartilage. These discs are important for the mobility of the neck, but also to protect the vertebrae against undue pressure from our habits or even from shocks. Of course, many muscles and ligaments also ensure the movements of the neck, but they also serve to stabilize the cervical vertebrae.

Discomfort that affects this region is called “cervicalgia”. Whether in the acute or chronic phase, neck discomfort can be disabling and limit daily activities. In the majority of cases, the discomfort  usually subsides within a few weeks. However, certain conditions can be the cause of chronic neck discomfort, that is to say that the discomfort persists beyond three months or that it returns in episodes, more or less prolonged.

Neck discomfort, depending on the structures in the neck that are affected, can cause discomfort throughout the upper body. You might suffer from headaches, discomfort in the shoulders and upper back, or even the arms if the neck discomfort is caused by damage to a cervical nerve (neuralgia).

What causes neck discomfort?

As promised, below we address the most common causes of neck discomfort.

  • Trauma: Whether after an impact while playing a sport or because of a road accident, the tissues of the neck can be affected by this major shock, for example, when the head is thrown forward and then backward. Damage to the ligaments of the blow is common during this type of impact, which results in whiplash.
  • False movements: False movements, especially in the case of a fall, can also be the cause of injury to ligaments and cervical structures.
  • Sedentary work: People who have a sedentary job and spend long hours sitting at a desk are at risk of adopting non-ergonomic postures. These lead to prolonged muscle contractions, which exert significant pressure on the vertebrae. This usually results in muscle tension and a stiff neck. This can also occur in work that requires repetitive movements, such as assembly line work.
  • Text Neck: Using cell phones and other mobile devices results in our heads moving forward and our necks arching, especially when holding the device too low in relation to our eyes. This poor position causes significant pressure on the neck, which can lead to muscle tension, or even displacement of the vertebral discs. The British have even named this phenomenon “Text Neck”.
  • Poor sleeping positions: Sleeping in poor positions can have a direct impact on the health of the spine, particularly on the cervical region. It is important that the head is well supported, and to avoid positions causing excessive rotation of the neck, especially if you are lying on your stomach.
  • Stress : Episodes of stress, when frequent and/or prolonged, can cause significant muscle contractions in the neck and cause torticollis.

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