Neck Pain


Pain in the neck? Don't ignore it - finding the cause is the first step. Our Toronto physiotherapists and other sports medicine specialists help many of their clients with issues that begin with a simple ache in the neck area – in fact, it's estimated that up to seven in 10 people will suffer from some form of neck pain during their lives.

The neck is relatively small as compared to the size of the average human body overall, but it's packed with delicate and extremely important structures. Here's a look at some of the most common causes of neck pain.

Musculoskeletal neck pain is often caused by holding the head in one position, or maintaining an unnatural posture, for a period of time. This is very common among people who work on their computers, and that includes video gaming enthusiasts who hunch over their gaming devices. Craning your neck over your mobile phone is another common cause, along with sleeping in an awkward position. You will feel a persistent, dull ache.

  • Arrange your work space ergonomically. Our Toronto physiotherapists and other sports medicine specialists can give you advice on how to do that.
  • Gaming fans should also consider ergonomics, such as playing on a computer with the screen at eye level, and seriously consider either cutting down the number of hours played on handheld devices, or at least spacing them out with intervals of activity.
  • Use a speakerphone or headset rather than hold the phone between your shoulder and cheek.

Sleeping in an awkward position, or sudden movements can also cause muscle spasms, felt as a sharp pain that may not last very long. Sometimes, the causes of muscle spasms are unknown.

Muscle tension in the neck can lead to dull, throbbing headaches that usually encompass the back of the head and neck. At times, muscles will tense up because you already have a headache. Either way, you are likely dealing with strain of the suboccipital muscles at the base of the skull. This can be due to eye strain, or holding your head in an awkward position.

Pinched nerves - Nerves are compressed or pinched pinched by bone spurs which can occur as the disks deteriorate over time. You may feel tingling or numbness in your arms or hands. It can occur as a result of the normal wear and tear over a lifetime, or a sudden injury.

There are some specific conditions that can cause neck pain and other discomfort.

  • Spondylosis, or degenerative disk disease can occur as you age. There is a soft material in the spinal disks with a texture like jello. It acts like a shock absorber between the bones of your spine. That soft centre can deteriorate with age. You may experience pain, stiffness, headaches, and muscle spasms - or no symptoms at all.
  • Whiplash is often caused by a car accident where the head jerks back and forth suddenly and violently, but can also be caused by a sports injury where the head goes through similar jerky movements. Wearing your seat belt is your best protection in case of auto accidents.
  • A herniated disk occurs when the jelly capsule bulges or ruptures, and causes damage or irritation to the nerves around it. The good news is that a herniated disk can heal.
  • Osteoarthritis - degeneration of the cartilage between joints - and rheumatoid arthritis - an autoimmune disease not linked to aging - may have different causes, but both can lie at the bottom of neck pain and stiffness.

There are a few essential points to keep in mind when it comes to prevention:

  • Activity at intervals – your body is designed for movement and not extended periods of sitting in one position.
  • Good posture – when you sit, think about maintaining a straight line from your shoulders to your elbows and hips. Try to maintain that same kind of balance as you stand or walk.
  • Good form – when you practice your sport, be sure to maintain the correct form and stance – this is your best protection against any injury as it helps ensure no body part is put under undue stress.
  • Proper equipment – play your sport with proper footwear and other necessary gear, sized correctly to help prevent all injuries.
  • Conditioning – weight or resistance training, flexibility training, developing and maintaining core strength, and aerobic exercise for endurance – these will all help you prevent injury no matter what you do.

Treatments are available no matter what the cause, and are customized to your situation. If you are suffering from persistent neck pain, let our Toronto physiotherapists, chiropractors, massage therapists and other members of our sports medicine team help. Call one of our Toronto physiotherapy clinics today, or drop by to make an appointment.