Prof, my neck hurts!

Prof, my neck hurts!

Dear Prof,

I woke up this morning with a painful and sore neck. This has happened on a few occasions in the past,but thepain disappeared after two days of taking some pain killers. But this time the pain is nagging and has refused to go. I even feel some tingling sensation on my palm with occasional numbness. I am a 56-year “danfo” driver. Is it something I touched in the course of my duty?

Lanre, Lagos.

Dear Lanre,

We all suffer from neck pain from time to time. At 56, it’s not uncommon to suffer neck pain, sometimes of unknown cause. The pain and other symptoms could be felt very far away from the neck. It is normal to feel numbness and pain pricks around the hand and fingers. However, if this persists, I will suggest you consult a general practitioner and your physiotherapist for a thorough assessment including neck X-rays. The X-rays might show marginal changes in the bones of the neck with narrowing or reduction of the spaces between the bony spaces of the neck. The narrowing of the joint spaces in the neck might cause trapping of the nerves that supply the arms and the hand thus resulting in uncomfortable sensations in the hand. When this is properly managed by your physiotherapist (including the use of neck collars,) the neck pain and the symptoms of the hand would disappear but if the symptoms remain, please consult your general practitioner for further investigations.

It is also common for the symptoms to range from a mild ache to severe pain. This is usually dependent on the cause of the neck problem. There are different possible diagnoses of neck pain. The common one is called cervical spondylosis. This is commonly referred to as wear and tear of the neck bones from the base of the head to where the neck meets the shoulder. There are so many structures in the neck bone that could transmit pain when they are damaged.  Cervical spondylosis is the degeneration of the bones and disks (the natural cushion between the joint spaces of the bones) in the neck. This condition can lead to a variety of problems, including herniated or burst disks and bone spurs. As people age, the structures that make up the backbone and neck gradually wear and tear.

Lanre, these changes can include dehydrated disks or dry discs. When this happens pains would not only be felt around the neck but also muscles of the arm and hands that are supplied by the nerves that originate from the neck. Poor posture, repetitive movements, and strains may all cause neck pain. The most common cause of neck pain is muscle strain, in which a muscle is stretched too far and tears. Neck muscle strain is typically caused by poor posture or support, such as sleeping with the neck in awkward positions.

Lanre, please seek medical and physiotherapy services if your neck pain is accompanied by numbness or loss of strength in your arms or hands or if you have shooting pain in your shoulder or down your arm

Most often, pain in the right or left side of your neck is usually nothing serious. It’s often caused by muscle strain, poor sleeping position, or bad posture.  Your job as a danfo driver could be a risk factor for neck pain. Everyone with a job like yours or a teacher or office administrator whose job involves sitting, especially for a long time, could suffer neck pain. Don’t depend on homemade remedies and massage because this can worsen it. Although it’s rare, once in a while, neck pain may be a warning sign of cancer, infection, auto-immune disease, or some kind of structural problems like spinal cord injury or a threat to an important blood vessel.

Best wishes.

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