If you think you’re the only one with a sore neck, think again. In the United States, 20-50% of the population experiences neck pain at some point every year. That’s because, like it or not, our lifestyle makes us prone to developing (but hopefully not becoming) a pain in the neck.
At Apex Spine and Neurosurgery, with offices in Roswell and Bethlehem, Georgia, our expert team of neurosurgeons treats all things spine-related, including the multiple causes of neck pain. Even while living with pain, many people aren’t aware of its source, so we’ve put together this guide on common lifestyle causes of acute and chronic neck pain.
How your spine is organized and why you need it
Your spine is very appropriately called your backbone. This long, flexible column extends from the base of your skull down your back to your coccyx (tailbone), providing support for your body to stay upright and allowing you to bend and flex.
The moveable part of the spine is composed of 24 bony vertebrae, each attached to a bony arch that forms a continuous hollow tube from top to bottom. The space inside is called the spinal canal, and it houses the spinal cord and other nerve bundles.
Between each pair of these moveable vertebrae is a soft, gel-like disc that permits the joint to move easily and acts as a shock absorber during movement.
Each vertebra contains a small opening on either side through which spinal nerves leave the canal space — one goes to the left and one to the right. These nerves travel out to the body’s periphery, providing sensation and generating movement. They’re supported by strong ligaments and muscles attached to the vertebrae.
The neck region is also known as the cervical spine, and it contains the top seven bones of the vertebral column, labeled C1–C7, which help support the weight of your head.
What lifestyle activities cause neck pain?
There are many things that can lead to neck pain — basically anything that impacts or impinges on the cervical spine’s components.
Here are the most commonly occurring causes of neck pain.
The average adult human head weighs about 8% of body weight, or an average of 10-12 pounds when in the neutral position. The muscles and ligaments in your neck have to work hard to both support your head’s weight and keep your cervical spine upright throughout the day.
There are many reasons you can strain a muscle, everything from reaching up above your head too strenuously to suffering a whiplash injury in a car accident. One of the most common muscle strains, though, is directly attributable to our modern technological society. It’s referred to, appropriately enough, as “tech neck.” It’s the act of hunching your shoulders and tilting your head forward all day to look at a computer screen or a smartphone.
As you tilt your head, the force on your neck muscles increases. At a forward 45-degree tilt, common for a computer screen, your head now feels like it weighs 49 pounds. At a 60-degree tilt — imagine chin to chest or looking down at your phone on your lap — it’s a whopping 60 pounds.
Degenerative changes and worn joints
As you age, your body begins to exhibit signs of wear and tear, and the neck joints are no exception. From a lifetime of bending, lifting, looking, and turning, the joints take a beating, leaving you at risk for osteoarthritis (OA), a degenerative joint disease and the most common form of arthritis.
In OA, the cartilage in the joints and discs breaks down, so you get bone-on-bone grinding, leading to pain, inflammation and swelling, and a limited range of motion. The shifting bones can also put pressure on the nearby nerves, sending additional pain signals to the brain.
Very few of us have picture-perfect posture, and stooped shoulders and continued leaning to one side or the other can affect the curvature and mechanics of the spine, including the cervical spine.
Discs can bulge out from their normal positions, and bone spurs can form on the vertebrae, both of which can press on the nerves emerging from the spinal cord. This compression, also called impingement, can cause a great deal of pain as well as numbness and tingling in the body regions served by the affected nerves.
Apex Spine and Neurosurgery offers neck treatments ranging from conservative to surgical, though we recommend surgery only in cases of nerve compression or irritation.
If your neck has become a pain in the neck, it’s time to make an appointment with one of our neurosurgeons. Give us a call at 678-250-0880, or book online with us today. You have pain, and we have treatments that give relief.