Cervicalgia DefinitionCervicalgia is the term for neck pain which does not radiate outward and is derived from the Greek ‘algos’ meaning pain, and the Latin ‘cervic’ meaning neck. It is, therefore, distinguished from neck pain and radiculopathy and is most likely due to causes other than nerve compression in the neck. The muscles in the neck are under continual pressure to maintain posture and hold up the considerable weight of the skull and brain which averages around 10lbs. For every inch that the head projects forwards the forces on the neck double; effectively, an inch of forward projection means 20lbs of weight on the neck. It is easy to see how the strain on the cervical spinal muscles can take its toll over time, leading to fatigue in the muscles, spasms, cramps, stiffness, and cervicalgia. The muscles of the neck may become tight and inflexible, which can lead to tearing upon sharp movement and acute neck pain.
How Cervicalgia Develops
Cervicalgia may develop through chronic wear and tear, an inflammatory joint disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis, persistent stress and tension causing muscles in the neck to become tight, and acute injuries from sports, or whiplash. Fibromyalgia is another cause of cervicalgia for many patients, with tender points between the shoulders and in the neck causing constant pain. A large number of those suffering cervicalgia will only do so temporarily as it is often caused by simply sleeping at an awkward angle, slouching over a desk, or standing or sitting in a draught for a period of time. In some cases there may be a physical abnormality causing the neck pain, such as ligaments calcification, cervical arthritis, spinal curvature, or torticollis (wry neck) which causes the head to tilt to one side due to shortened muscles in the neck.
Symptoms of Cervicalgia
Cervicalgia symptoms include both sharp neck pain and chronic pain in the neck, along with aching, tenderness, tension, pain upon rotating the head, stiffness of the neck, and even headaches. In some cases the neck pain associated with cervicalgia may be short-lived and improve with rest if symptomatic of an acute neck muscle strain. However, cervicalgia may remain constant, or even progress leading to degeneration of the cervical spine and the development of other symptoms such as radiculopathy or myelopathy. Chronic problems with the neck muscles also increase the likelihood of conditions such as osteoarthritis as the cervical spine may try to compensate for instability by growing osteophytes and causing cervical spinal stenosis.
Treatment for cervicalgia are usually conservative and include methods of relieving inflammation where it is evident. Applying ice to the area is a good way of relieving pain and swelling and is often advised where a muscle tear is suspected. Heat is contraindicated in such a situation as this is likely to make the problem worse by increasing blood flow to the area. If the cervicalgia is due to muscle tension rather than an injury then thermotherapy can be effective in aiding relaxation of the muscle and relieving neck pain. Adequate rest and the temporary use of a supportive neck collar is also helpful in some cases of cervicalgia although it is inadvisable to use a collar long-term as this may itself lead to muscle weakness in the neck. Many patients also make use of anti-inflammatory medications, including prescribed drugs, over-the-counter remedies, and natural supplements to lower inflammation and pain. Physical therapy, including neck stretches and strengthening exercises, is a good idea for anyone who suffers from chronic neck pain, and intractable cases may require more invasive surgical intervention to address some causes of cervicalgia.
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Last Updated: 04/25/2011