What is Acute Neck pain?
Acute neck pain is a descriptive word used when you have pain for less than 6 weeks. Neck pain can be felt anywhere between the base of the skull and the upper shoulder region. When pain is coming from structures in the upper part of the neck, it can result in a neck-related headache. Pain may also affect the upper back and upper arm.
What causes acute neck pain?
Neck pain can be caused by the following:
- A specific incident like a quick turn or an awkward sleeping position
- An injury such as hitting your head or bending your neck
- Unfamiliar activities – pain may gradually come on after hours or days of completely an activity you don’t usually do such as painting
As a result of the incident or unfamiliar activity, the joints and ligaments of neck may become strained and painful, therefore the muscles will then limit movement as it is too painful.
How do I know if I have acute neck pain?
You may have acute neck pain if you experience the following:
- Mild to moderate pain around neck area
- Pain is worsen with head or neck movement
- Neck is tender to touch
- Sleeping may be uncomfortable
Your physiotherapist will be able to diagnose your condition by undertaking an examination of your neck. Imaging is not necessary to diagnose this condition, although it may be if there has been a force to the injury. It is very rare that this condition has a serious medical cause.
How can treatment methods used by physiotherapists help acute neck pain?
Once you have been diagnosed with acute neck pain your physiotherapist will discuss treatment methods that have been proven to help ease the pain and restore normal function of the neck in which they include:
- explaining the reason for the pain and providing assurance
- gentle manual therapy
- gentle, specific exercise and self-help strategies.
Manual therapy may be used to help treat neck pain. Exercises may also be used to help support the neck to continue to work, to ease pain and to help restore movements. Cold or heat packs may also be used to sooth a sore neck. Your physiotherapist may advise you on self-management strategies to complete at home.
What can I do at home?
It is most important that you understand and complete exercises given by your physiotherapist to ensure a speedy recovery. Cold or heat packs may also be used to soothe a sore neck. Limit activities that are aggravating your symptoms/pain and avoid positions that are uncomfortable. Simple head movement may help to relieve pain.
How long will my recovery be?
Your recovery time will vary, acute episodes of neck pain may settle in a few days. Whereas other neck pain can settle in 3–6 weeks although it can take up to 12 weeks or longer. It is vital to continue as many normal activities as possible as well as completing prescribed exercises for up to 3 months.
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Reference: Australian Physiotherapy Association 2019, Your Body, viewed 19 November 2019, < https://australian.physio/>.