neck pain

A comprehensive guide on cervical pain and how to manage it at home?

What is cervical pain?

Our cervical spine or neck spine is a coordinated network of nerves, bones, joints, and muscles that extend from skull to upper torso. It provides support and mobility for the head. Any abnormalities, inflammation, or injury in nerves, bones, joints or muscles of the neck can cause neck pain or stiffness. This is called cervical pain.

Cervical pain usually goes away within a few days or weeks, but pain that persists for months may signal an medical cause that needs to be addressed. It is common among adults, but it can occur at any age.

It is a fairly common health problem, and most people may experience it at one point in their lives.

Check out this article about back pain. How to manage your back pain at home?

What is the prevalence of cervical pain?

Prevalence is generally higher in women than in men, also higher in high-income countries compared with low- and middle-income countries. Furthermore, it is higher in urban areas compared with rural areas and peaks at around 45 years of age. 

Moreover, rates of recurrence and chronicity of neck pain are high. Most people with neck pain do not experience a complete resolution of symptoms, with between 50% and 85% of those who experience neck pain reporting neck pain again 1 to 5 years later. Childs et al suggest that 30% of patients with neck pain will develop chronic symptoms and 37% of individuals who experience neck pain will report persistent problems for at least 12 months. In chronic conditions, the course may be stable or fluctuating, but in most cases can best be classified as recurrent, characterized by periods of relative improvement followed by periods of relative worsening. 


How can you develop cervical pain?

Well, you can develop cervical pain in many ways which can include:

  • It may start slowly as mild or only occur toward the end of a work day but then it might recur and get worse with time.
  • Neck pain may also start right after a you get injured around upper body area or if you slept awkwardly on the neck.
  • It may be a delayed symptom after an injury. Sometimes neck pain may occur as a delayed reaction of your injury such as after a car or bike accidents. They may begin hours or a few days after the injury occurred and also may get worse over time.
  • It may be due to carrying a heavy item which puts strain on one side of the body.
  • If you are spending extra time hunched over a computer monitor or phone.
  • Also, pain caused by a physical problem such as a herniated disc or compressed nerve.

What are the signs and symptoms of cervical pain?

Cervical pain usually involves one or more of the following symptoms and signs:

  • Stiff neck: You may have soreness and difficulty in moving your neck, especially when trying to turn the head from side to side. You may also feel pain in the middle or on either side of your neck, and may extend to the shoulder or to your upper chest.
  • Numbness or sharp pain: A nerve can become pinched or compressed when the muscles, bones or tissues surrounding it apply too much pressure. As a result, you may feel numbness, pins and needles or a tingling sensation that can be felt down your arm, sometimes right down to your fingers. This type of pain typically occurs in the lower neck.
  • Radicular pain: This pain travels from a nerve from the neck into the shoulder and arm. The intensity of pain can vary and this nerve pain might feel like it is burning or searing.
  • Cervical radiculopathy: Neurological deficits such as problems with reflexes, sensation, or strength may be experienced in the arm due to nerve root compression.
  • Trouble with gripping or lifting objects: This happens if numbness or weakness goes into the arm or fingers.
  • Headaches: An irritation in the neck can affect muscles and nerves connected to the head which sometimes may lead to headaches.

What are the risk factors of cervical pain?

The most common risk factors of cervical pain are:

  • Elderly people: In elderly people, the cervical spine discs becomes weak or break down, lose fluid, and then become stiffer. This makes people above the age of 60 years more susceptible to this cervical pain.
  • People having desk jobs involving use of computers: This can cause awkward positioning of the neck which can exert pressure on the neck causing injury, thus increasing the risk of cervical pain. 
  • Neck injuries: Pressure or sudden jerk to a neck that has a history of injury can increase the risk of the person suffering from cervical pain. 
  • Smoking: Researches show that smoking can elaborate the pain caused due to cervical pain. 

How to diagnose cervical pain?

Diagnosis of cervical pain can be done by physical examination, imaging tests and nerve function tests.

A physical examination includes:

  • Checking range of motion in your neck.
  • Testing your reflexes and muscle strength to find out if there’s pressure on your spinal nerves or spinal cord.
  • Watching you walk to see if spinal compression is affecting your gait.

Imaging tests can provide detailed information to guide diagnosis and treatment. These include:

  • Neck X-ray: An X-ray can show abnormalities, such as bone spurs, that indicate cervical pain. Neck X-ray may also help you to rule out rare and more serious causes for neck pain and stiffness, such as tumors, infections or fractures.
  • CT scan: A CT scan can provide more detailed imaging, particularly of bones.
  • MRI: MRI can help pinpoint areas where nerves might be pinched or compressed.

Nerve function tests to determine if nerve signals are traveling properly to your muscles can be done. These include:

  • Electromyography: This test measures the electrical activity in your nerves as they transmit messages to your muscles when the muscles are contracting and at rest.
  • Nerve conduction study: Electrodes are attached to your skin above the nerve. A small shock is passed through the nerve to measure the strength and speed of nerve signals.


Do you know that poor posture can cause cervical pain?

Poor head posture is one of the common cause of cervical pain. If you tilt your head forward to type or text the it puts excess weight on the cervical spine. This poor head posture is a leading cause of neck pain in patients under 45 years of age. This leads to chronic neck pain that may turn into Dowager’s Hump (an outward curvature of the thoracic vertebrae of the upper back), which makes the base of the neck look fleshy and rounded.  

Is there anything that you can do to prevent cervical pain?

Well yes, you can prevent cervical pain by making changes in your lifestyle. This change in lifestyle will help make you less sedentary, or improve in your working style and posture can prevent neck pain in many cases.

Here are few tips which will help you in preventing your cervical pain.

  • Always fasten your seat belt and headrest behind your neck can also prevent some neck injuries from auto accidents.
  • When you are working on your computer, always place your computer monitor at eye level to avoid straining your neck.
  • You can stretch regularly if you have a desk job or traveling for long hours.
  • Try to participate in physically activities such as yoga or pilates class.
  • You should keep your posture in mind and avoid hunching your shoulders forward.

How to treat your cervical pain at home?

Take it easy:

Nowadays, most people live a very hectic life. And if you’re living with cervical pain on top of that then it is important to temporarily ease back on your activities. If muscles, tendons, or ligaments have been over-exhausted or overused, then it makes sense to give them a rest. You should limit or avoid neck movements that exacerbate the pain. However, after an initial rest period, try to get back to normal activity levels if possible as too much rest can cause muscles to weaken and tighten, which can lead to more pain.

Apply cold/heat:

You can either apply ice or heat to the neck for pain relief, depending on your preference. Ice tends to be good at stopping the injury’s initial inflammation and numbing pain. Heat tends to be good at relaxing muscles and helping nutrient-rich blood flow into the area to promote healing. Just be careful to limit applications to 20 minutes or less at a time and regularly check the skin to avoid tissue damage.

Heat packs and ice packs are readily available at the store, or you can make them from common items at home, such as using a frozen bag of peas.

(Amazon link for hot/cold pack:

Do some stretching:

You can go for gentle stretching or massage. Some gentle stretching can help reduce tightness in the neck as you recover. As long as the massage or stretching doesn’t increase pain, it can help relax muscles, help in flexibility and improve your blood flow.

Here are a few simple stretches for pain that you can do at home:

1. You can try slowly stretching your neck to one side, and then the other. With your left hand, apply very light tension on your chin so that your head turns slightly more. Hold for 20 seconds and return your head slowly to center and then repeat it to other side.

2. You can bend your head forward and try to touch your chin to your chest. Relax the shoulders as you do this and hold for 20 seconds and repeat.

3. You can lie on your back with your knees bent and a pillow under your head and neck for support. Nod your head forward gently. Hold the position for 10 seconds and then relax and repeat the same.

If you feel significant discomfort or pain with any of these stretches, then you should stop immediately.

Correct your posture:

Bad posture is one of the major contributor to neck pain. You should always pay attention to your bodily posture such as sitting, standing, or lifting. Keep your head and neck straight and make sure your back is supported. For example, when you sit at your desk, your computer should be at eye level and chair should be right up against your back.

A soft neck brace:

If you wear these neck braces then it can help you to relieve pain temporarily. However, long-term use can result in weaker neck muscles.

(Amazon link for neck brace:

What exercise can you opt for your cervical pain?

Researches shows that exercise is an effective way to treat cervical pain. According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, women with chronic cervical pain who performed strength and endurance exercises using resistance bands and light weights significantly reduced their neck pain and disability. It’s also important to keep active in general. Aerobic exercise of 30 minutes such as walking, biking, swimming every day can keep your back muscles strong.

Some common yoga pose which can help to treat your cervical pain:

Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose):

  1. Begin on your belly with your feet hip-distance apart and your hands beside your ribs.
  2. Now, extend your big toes straight back and press down with all ten toenails to activate your quadriceps.
  3. Next, rotate your inner thighs toward the ceiling to broaden the lower back. Pressing down lightly with your hands, start to lift your head and chest, rolling your shoulders back and down.
  4. Also, keep the back of your neck long and focus on lifting your sternum instead of lifting your chin.
  5. Your arms should be straight while keeping your shoulders remaining away from your ears. Keep at least a slight bend in your elbows.
  6. To exit the pose, release back to your mat.

Ardha Matsyendrasana (Sitting Half-Spinal Twist):

  • Firstly, sit up with the legs stretched out straight in front of you, keeping the feet together and the spine erect.
  • Bend the left leg and place the heal of the left foot beside the right hip (optionally, you can keep the left leg straight).
  • Take the right leg over the left knee.
  • Place the left hand on the right knee and the right hand behind you.
  • Twist the waist, shoulders and neck in this sequence to the right and look over the right shoulder.
  • Keep the spine erect.
  • Hold and continue with gentle long breaths in and out.
  • Breathing out, release the right hand first (the hand behind you), release the waist, then chest, lastly the neck and sit up relaxed yet straight.
  • Repeat to the other side.
  • Breathing out, come back to the front and relax.

Dhanurasana (Bow Pose):

  1. Firstly, lie on your stomach with your feet apart, in line with your hips, and your arms by the side of your body.
  2. Next, fold your knees, take your hands backward, and hold your ankles.
  3. Breathe in, and lift your chest off the ground and pull your legs up and towards the back. 
  4. Look straight ahead and keep the pose stable while paying attention to your breath.
  5. Next, continue to take long, deep breaths as you relax in this pose. But, bend only as far as your body permits you to. Do not overdo the stretch.
  6. After 15 -20 seconds, as you exhale, gently bring your legs and chest to the ground. Release the ankles and relax.

Matsyasana (Fish Pose)

  1. Firstly, lie on your back and come up to your elbows with your forearms flat on the mat and your upper arms perpendicular to the floor.
  2. Next, keep your forearms in place and puff up your chest by rolling your shoulders back and tucking your shoulder blades firmly onto your back.
  3. Now, press your palms into the mat.
  4. Lower the very top of your head back until it comes to the floor, opening your throat.
  5. Next, hold the toes with your hands and rest your elbows on the floor. Breathe slowly and deeply. 
  6. To come out, press strongly into your forearms and raise your head off the floor. Then release your upper body to the mat.

Bottom line:

Cervical pain is a common health problem. You may experience it at sometime in your life. It is common among adults, but it can occur at any age.

It shows some sign and symptoms which may include stiffness, headaches, numbness or sharp pain or radicular pain, etc. The risk factors of this condition include elderly people, smoking, neck injuries and people having desk jobs involving the use of computers as it may strain neck muscles.

Many people experience neck pain because of poor posture and muscle strain. In these cases, your neck pain should go away if you practice good posture and rest your neck muscles when they’re sore. There are many techniques to do that such as stretching, applying cold/heat on your neck, using neck brace, etc. These techniques will help you to relax your nerves.

There are some things that you can try at home, for example, yoga poses such as bhujangasana, matsyasana, dhanurasana, aadha matsyendrasana. These yoga poses will strengthen your neck muscles and will help you to reduce your cervical pain. You should not overdo yourself and if you feel any discomfort then you should stop immediately.

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