Cervical pain, also known as cervicogenic pain, is a condition associated with inflammation of muscles, joints, or tendons in the neck. It can affect individuals of any age and is linked to various triggering factors. This condition may develop from simple muscle contractions and poor posture during work or sleep, or it can be caused by more complex issues such as disc herniation, trauma, or the aftermath of surgical procedures. Due to the multitude of potential contributing factors, cervical pain can manifest as an acute episode or in a chronic form, worsened by potential flare-ups.
While experiencing cervical pain is common, it is crucial not to overlook neck pains, as the neck is a delicate joint complex housing various organs and structures.
Symptoms of Cervical Pain Cervical pain can manifest as localized discomfort in the neck or as pain radiating to the shoulder, arm, or upper back. It is characterized by a sensation of stiffness and heaviness that intensifies with movement. This condition can significantly impair individuals, preventing simple neck movements and head rotations, thereby interfering with daily activities. Another symptom associated with cervical pain is headache, specifically cervicogenic headache, which is musculoskeletal in nature. This type of headache causes throbbing, oppressive, or persistent moderate-intensity pain, primarily located in the frontal-temporal and occipital regions, worsening with certain movements.
In the presence of disc herniation, cervical pain becomes more severe as the nerve roots are compressed, leading to sensory or strength deficits in the arms, accompanied by tingling or electric shock sensations. In advanced stages, cervical spinal cord involvement may result in an increase in symptoms, affecting the lower limbs and causing balance issues, motor disturbances, and potential incontinence.
Causes Whether acute or chronic, cervical pain is primarily linked to muscular alterations caused by sudden and forceful mechanical stress leading to muscle contraction or prolonged, minor stress resulting in muscle overload and reflex muscle spasms. One common trauma associated with neck pain is whiplash, a sudden movement often resulting from car accidents or strenuous work, causing a rapid extension and subsequent flexion of neck muscles.
Cervical pain can also be provoked by arthritis in the intervertebral joints, where even simple joint movements induce pain, or by the presence of disc herniation. Less commonly, specific infections (rheumatologic, neurologic, vascular, or tumorous) can cause neck pain, but cervical pain, in these cases, is a secondary symptom.
Preventing Cervical Pain While it is impossible to avoid sudden traumatic events such as whiplash or infections, adopting good practices can help alleviate or delay the onset of cervical pain when it is caused by muscle-related issues. Proper posture, especially during long work hours, is crucial. The neck should be kept straight, aligned with the rest of the body, and not bent forward or downward. Using a pillow at neck or head height may be comfortable for some. When sleeping, it is advisable to prefer supine positions, avoiding sleeping on the stomach with the neck turned to one side.
Various stretching exercises are also helpful in adapting to a correct posture and strengthening the muscles that protect the spine. Before engaging in these exercises, consulting with a specialist is essential, as each patient may have different clinical issues, and exercises suitable for one person may be discouraged for another.
Regular physical activity or sports are fundamental for maintaining good muscle tone and elasticity, both protective factors against the onset of painful spasms.
Neck Pain: What to Do?
For musculoskeletal cervical pain, setting up a stretching exercise program with a specialist, along with necessary postural modifications, is usually sufficient. In cases of acute cervical pain episodes, pharmacological therapy may be necessary. Anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants are commonly used, as well as antalgic mesotherapy, where medication is administered through subcutaneous injection directly targeting the painful area.
In certain cases, complementary treatments such as vertebral mobilization sessions, massage therapy, or physiotherapy may be recommended by the referring specialist based on the severity of cervical pain. An innovative treatment to alleviate cervical pain symptoms is represented by ultrasound-guided procedures, allowing targeted intervention on the structures causing pain without the use of harmful radiation to health.