- Neck Anatomy
- Effects of Neck Pain
- Causes of Muscle Pain
- Other Causes of Neck Pain
Understanding the anatomy of the neck
Most people will have neck pain at some point. Injuries and certain illnesses can cause neck pain, but the most common cause is holding your neck in the same position for a long time. More serious symptoms can come from changes in the upper spine that come with aging. These changes often cause neck pain in seniors.
The neck contains seven bones called vertebrae that enclose the spinal cord. Other nerves branch out from the spinal cord. Disks between the bones act as shock absorbers. They have a tough outer coating and a jellylike interior. Muscles and ligaments bind the vertebrae together, providing both flexibility and support. Injury to any of these parts can cause neck pain.
Pressure on the spinal cord in the neck can be serious because most of the nerves that serve the body pass through the neck. Problems in the neck can cause pain, numbness, and weakness in the arms, chest, abdomen, or legs. Many organs rely on the nerves that pass through the neck for proper function.
What are the effects of neck pain?
Neck pain can affect your employment, social life, and personal relationships. When neck pain causes you to avoid certain activities, both your physical and mental health can suffer. Sometimes, it may seem that doctors and family members don't believe that you are having real neck pain as you age. You may become angry, anxious, or depressed.
Neck pain can get worse through the pain cycle:
- Pain causes you to reduce movement.
- Reduced movement causes the muscles to get weaker.
- Weaker muscles get tired faster.
- Tired muscles result in increased pain.
How is neck pain diagnosed?
A muscle spasm or sprain can cause neck pain. Doctors can often diagnose this type of neck pain with a physical examination. Doctors use X-rays to diagnose neck pain caused by arthritis. If your symptoms suggest nerve problems, doctors will often use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) to diagnose it.
What causes muscle pain in the neck?
Poor posture that results in muscle strain is a common cause of neck pain. You can prevent this type of neck pain by taking these steps:
- Keep your neck in alignment by not using too many pillows when you sleep.
- During the day, don't stay in the same position for too long. A fitness tracker can remind you to get up and move.
- Be aware of your position, especially when using electronics. Avoid text neck. Change your computer setup to make it more ergonomic.
- If you wear glasses, be sure your prescription is correct so that you're not craning your neck to see over your glasses or through a certain section of your lens.
- Don't take on more than you can handle. Get help for big jobs that involve the arms, shoulders, and neck.
What are the other causes of neck pain?
Many older people have osteoarthritis, which can cause neck pain. The joints of the neck are subject to wear and tear just like other joints in the body. In conjunction with this, aging can cause these three conditions:
Cervical spondylosis. This term covers the changes that occur in the neck with aging. Cartilage may wear away. Disks can become thin and dry so they don't cushion the bones. Your body may try to compensate by growing extra bone in the form of bone spurs. These changes in the neck may cause pain from pinched nerves.
Cervical spinal stenosis. Changes in the neck cause the spinal canal to narrow, putting pressure on the spinal cord and other nerves. Besides neck pain, people with spinal stenosis often have symptoms in their extremities. They may have numbness, weakness, or poor coordination in the arms, legs, feet, and hands.
Disk problems. Changes in the disks between the vertebrae can cause neck pain. Disks that are squeezed between two of the bones in the neck can rupture. The disk may bulge out through the tear, a condition called herniated disk. Damaged disks can press on the nerves and even compress the spinal cord.
How is neck pain treated?
Treatments for neck pain can be nonsurgical or surgical.
Nonsurgical treatments include:
- Injections of various types
- Physical therapy
- Manipulation of the neck
- Cervical collar
- Cervical traction
Doctors may suggest surgery, though, if more conservative treatments don't help or if symptoms get worse. To be a candidate for surgery, you must be in good health.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
American Association of Neurological Surgeons: "Cervical Spine," "Neck Pain."
Fakhoury, J., Dowling, T. StatPearls, “Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease,” StatPearls Publishing, 2021.
Harvard Health Publishing: "6 ways to ease neck pain."
Merck Manual Consumer Version: "Neck Pain."
OrthoInfo: "Cervical Spondylosis (Arthritis of the Neck)."
Versus Arthritis: "Neck Pain." American Association of Neurological Surgeons: "Cervical Spine," "Neck Pain." Fakhoury, J., Dowling, T. StatPearls, “Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease,” StatPearls Publishing, 2021. Harvard Health Publishing: "6 ways to ease neck pain." Merck Manual Consumer Version: "Neck Pain." OrthoInfo: "Cervical Spondylosis (Arthritis of the Neck)." Versus Arthritis: "Neck Pain."
Top What Causes Neck Pain in Seniors Related Articles
acetaminophen (Tylenol, Tylenol Arthritis Pain, Tylenol Ext, Little Fevers Children's Fever/Pain)
Acetaminophen is a drug that reduces fever and relieves pain. It is available alone, or in combination with hundreds of other drugs available both over-the-counter (without a prescription) or that that may require a prescription from your doctor, for example, acetaminophen and hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco) or acetaminophen and oxycodone (Percocet).
Acetaminophen treats a variety of diseases or other medical problems that cause pain or fever. Examples of conditions acetaminophen treats include, headache, minor arthritis pain, back pain, tooth pain, menstrual cramps, PMS, osteoarthritis, common cold, tension headache, chronic pain, hip pain, shoulder and neck pain, sore throat, sinus infection, teething, TMJ, bites and stings, and sprains and strains.
Acetaminophen generally has no side effects when taken as prescribed. When side effects are experienced, the most common are headache, rash, and nausea.
In 2014, the FDA recommended that doctors and other health care professionals only prescribe acetaminophen in doses of 325 mg or less. This warning highlights the potential for allergic reactions, for example, face, mouth, and throat swelling, difficulty breathing, itching, or rash. This action also will help reduce the risk of severe liver injury and serious allergic reactions associated with this drug. Other possible serious side effects adverse effects include anemia, kidney damage, thrombocytopenia (a reduced number of platelets in the blood), and liver problems.
Other patient information. Do not take more than one product that contains acetaminophen at the same time. Do not take more than one acetaminophen-containing drug than directed. Do not drink alcohol while taking medicine that contains acetaminophen due to severe liver damage.
REFERENCE: FDA Prescribing Information.
16 Back Pain Truths and MythsWhich mattress is best for back pain? Back pain conditions are very common. Learn the causes of upper and lower back pain. Find the truth and get the facts behind back pain myths, remedies, causes and treatment.
Back Pain QuizThere are numerous causes of chronic lower back pain and only one ailment gets more complaints. What is it? Quiz your knowledge of symptoms, treatments, problems, and reasons for common back pain.
Baclofen vs. Flexeril (Side Effects and Interactions)
Baclofen, brand names Gablofen, Lioresal, is a muscle relaxant prescribed for the treatment of skeletal muscle spasms, rigidity, muscle clonus, and pain caused by diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and cystic fibrosis. Flexeril, generic name cyclobenzaprine, also is a muscle relaxant prescribed to treat acute, short-term muscle spasms and associated pain.
Baclofen and Flexeril have similar side effects, for example, confusion, drowsiness, dizziness, constipation, and nausea. Side effects of baclofen that are different from Flexeril include weakness, vomiting, low blood pressure, insomnia, and seizures. Side effects of Flexeril that are different from baclofen include dry mouth, fatigue, blurred vision, acid reflux, nervousness, and stomach or belly pain.
Chronic PainChronic pain is pain (an unpleasant sense of discomfort) that persists or progresses over a long period of time. In contrast to acute pain that arises suddenly in response to a specific injury and is usually treatable, chronic pain persists over time and is often resistant to medical treatments.
Dilaudid vs. Fentanyl (Pain Strength Comparison and Side Effects)
Dilaudid (hydromorphone) and fentanyl are narcotic pain relievers prescribed to patients for the treatment and management of severe chronic pain, for example, pain related to cancer. Dilaudid and fentanyl have the same mechanism of action (they work the same way in relieving and stopping pain).
Why Does My Head Ache?Find out what's behind your headache, and get some strategies to bring you relief for your pain.
Ibuprofen vs. Meloxicam (Mobic) for PainIbuprofen (Advil, Motrin, and many other brand names) and meloxicam (Mobic) belong to a class of drugs called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and are used to manage mild to moderate pain, inflammation, and fever. NSAIDs block enzymes that make chemicals that contribute to inflammation (prostaglandins), which reduces prostaglandin levels and thus inflammation. Meloxicam is a prescription drug and is stronger than ibuprofen (which is available over-the-counter (OTC) at relieving pain and inflammation.
Common side effects of both ibuprofen and meloxicam include heartburn, constipation, drowsiness, dizziness, abdominal pain, tinnitus, rash, nausea, and diarrhea. Both NSAIDs have serious side effects that include edema, blood clots, heart attacks, high blood pressure, heart failure, and stomach ulcers.
Other side effects of meloxicam include intestinal gas, headache, joint pain, back pain, insomnia, itching, bladder infection, skin rash, and upper respiratory tract infection.
The dosage for ibuprofen is 1 to 2 tablets every 4 to 6 hours. No more than 6 tablets should be taken in 24 hours unless advised by a doctor or other healthcare professional. Meloxicam is only taken once a day. Dosage depends upon the condition being treated.
Lyrica vs. Gabapentin: Differences between Pain Relief and Uses
Lyrica (pregablin) and gabapentin (Neurotin) are drugs used to prevent seizures and to treat nerve pain associated with various conditions, for example, shingles. Lyrica and gabapentin are chemically related, but researchers do not know exactly how they work. Gabapentin also has several off-label uses to treat other conditions that cause pain, and substance abuse withdrawal.
Both pain medications also treat fibromyalgia. Off-label uses (non-FDA approved) for gabapentin are hot flashes, hiccups, restless leg syndrome (RLS), hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), headaches, and diabetic neuropathy. Lyrica also treats pain associated with spinal cord injuries.
Lyrica and gabapentin both cause similar side effects, for example, tremors, blurred or double vision, memory or concentration problems, dizziness, and drowsiness.
Side effects of Lyrica that are different from gabapentin include constipation, weight gain, dry mouth, constipation, breast enlargement, and edema (swelling). Side effects unique to gabapentin include viral infections, fever, speech problems, unusual eye movements, and jerky movements.
The generic name for Lyrica is pregabalin. Gabapentin is available in the US under the brand names Neurontin, Gralise, Horizant, Fanatrex, and FusePag.
Neck Pain (Cervical Pain)Neck pain (cervical pain) may be caused by any number of disorders and diseases. Tenderness is another symptom of neck pain. Though treatment for neck pain really depends upon the cause, treatment typically may involve heat/ice application, traction, physical therapy, cortisone injection, topical anesthetic creams, and muscle relaxants.
Neck Pain and DizzinessNeck pain is any degree of discomfort in the front or back of the neck between the head and the shoulders. Dizziness is characterized as either vertigo with disequilibrium or lightheadedness associated with feeling faint or the potential to lose consciousness. Causes of neck pain and dizziness vary, and treatment depends on the cause. With any unexplained or persisting neck pain or dizziness, consult with a health care professional, who can determine whether the symptoms are harmless and temporary or serious and threatening.
Oxycodone for Pain (OxyContin, Roxicodone, Oxecta, Oxaydo, Xtampza ER, Roxybond)Oxycodone (brand names OxyContin, Roxicodone, Oxecta, Oxaydo, Xtampza ER, Roxybond) is a narcotic pain-reliever prescribed for moderate to moderately severe pain. Some side effects include lightheadedness, dizziness, sedation, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, and constipation. Drug interactions, dosing, and pregnancy and breastfeeding information should be reviewed prior to taking this medication.
Oxycodone vs. Tramadol for Pain
Oxycodone and tramadol are prescription medications used to manage acute and chronic moderate to severe pain. Oxycodone is an opiate (narcotic) derived drug whereas tramadol is a man-made synthetic drug. Tramadol is not a narcotic, and it is not a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs). Some of the side effects of oxycodone and tramadol are the same, for example:
- Dry mouth
Serious side effects for oxycodone and tramadol differ. Oxycodone and tramadol are habit forming drugs and patients may become addicted. Withdrawal symptoms include:
Drug interactions, dosing, and pregnancy and breastfeeding safety information differs for these drugs and should be reviewed prior to administration.
Oxycodone vs. Vicodin (hydrocodone/acetaminophen) for PainOxycodone and Vicodin (hydrocodone/acetaminophen) are narcotic medications prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. Vicodin also may be prescribed to treat fever, inflammation, and cough.
Pain ManagementPain management and treatment can be simple or complex, according to its cause. There are two basic types of pain, nociceptive pain and neuropathic pain. Some causes of neuropathic pain include:
- complex regional pain syndrome,
- interstitial cystitis,
- and irritable bowel syndrome.
Pain Management: Musculoskeletal PainNatural menopause is the permanent ending of menstruation that is not brought on by any type of medical treatment. For women undergoing natural menopause, the process is described in three stages: perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause. However, not all women undergo natural menopause. Some women experience induced menopause as a result of surgery or medical treatments, such as chemotherapy and pelvic radiation therapy.
Pain QuizIs pain all in the brain? Take the Pain Quiz to learn everything you've ever wanted to know about the unpleasant sensation we call pain.
Pain Management: Surprising Causes of PainWhat's causing your pain? Learn the common causes of lower back pain, as well as pain in the knee, stomach, kidney, shoulder, chest, gallbladder, heel, sciatic nerve, neck, hip, foot and other parts of the body. Find pain management tips that work to help lower pain triggers, as well as other pain treatments.
15 Ways to Reduce PainChronic pain can be a symptom of many conditions, including arthritis, headaches, and others. Comprehensive chronic pain management therapy may include physical therapy, lifestyle strategies such as exercise, diet changes, meditation, journaling, medications, and avoiding alcohol and tobacco use. Make helpful changes to manage your chronic condition.
Shoulder and Neck PainShoulder and neck pain may be caused by bursitis, a pinched nerve, whiplash, tendinitis, a herniated disc, or a rotator cuff injury. Symptoms also include weakness, numbness, coolness, color changes, swelling, and deformity. Treatment at home may incorporate resting, icing, and elevating the injury. A doctor may prescribe pain medications and immobilize the injury.
What Is the Best Exercise for Back Pain?We are often a bit negligent toward our back while doing chores or physical exercise. While the causes for back pain may vary, regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are crucial for keeping the back healthy.