As neck pain remedies go, few are simpler than a glass of water. This is, however, a surefire way for many people to tackle both acute and chronic neck pain. Dehydration can affect the muscles, nerves, joints and spinal discs and yet is frequently overlooked as a potential cause of sudden neck pain and ongoing neck pain so how can you tell if you’re dehydrated and what should you do about it?
The body needs water in order to function properly. In fact, some 50-75% of the body’s weight is made up of water. This is found in the blood, the fluid between cells and within cells, in the synovial fluid of the joints, in the intervertebral discs, in lymphatic fluid and in numerous other places in the body.
Neck Pain Connected to Dehydration
When we become dehydrated this affects joint lubrication, the ability to effectively flush out toxins and pathogens through the lymphatic system, the communication between cells, and the elimination of toxic metabolites from muscles as well as the delivery of nutrients and energy to the muscles. Dehydration also affects the structure of the spinal discs that cushion the bones in the spine and maintain its curve, stability, and resilience.
Neck pain and dehydration are connected in numerous ways then, with a lack of adequate water intake resulting in muscle cramps, an increased risk of infection, poor nerve cell signalling, and reduced cushioning in the spine. The loss of water from the spinal discs is particularly problematic as they have no direct blood supply, meaning that it can take a long time for the discs to be replenished with water and nutrients. Over time the discs may become brittle and more liable to rupture or herniate, leading to pinched nerves and/or spinal cord compression.
A loss of lubrication of the spinal joints can also trigger neck pain, both chronic and acute, as the bones start to rub against each other. When this situation persists it may be that the body begins to remodel the joints to try to increase stability, and soft tissues may also begin to calcify, again to make the spine more rigid. These processes can cause osteophytes to form in the spine, and narrow the spinal spaces, which may lead to nerve impingement.
Dehydration may also be indirectly responsible for neck pain by way of reducing energy levels and the capacity for self-care that can help prevent or treat neck pain.
Symptoms of Dehydration
Spotting dehydration is usually fairly straightforward as poor blood circulation can lead to:
- Feelings of heaviness
- Blurred vision
- Hearing loss
- Dark urine (and limited urinary output)
- Urinary tract infections
- Asthma and other breathing issues
- Muscle cramps and tight muscles and ligaments
- Neck pain, back pain or other aches and pains
- Increased sensitivity to allergens (because of elevated histamine)
- Acid reflux and/or indigestion
Hydrating is key to getting the body back to optimal function and the easiest way to do this is to drink water that is at room temperature or slightly warmer. This is easily absorbed, while cold water can shock the body and actually fail to help with hydration as it is flushed through the system without being well absorbed.
If excessive sweating has contributed to dehydration then it is a good idea to add a pinch of salt to a glass of water before drinking. Alternatively, drinking coconut water can help restore lost electrolytes and help the body to absorb water and replenish vital fluids quickly while supporting electrical signalling between cells.
Mild to moderate dehydration is typically easily resolved by drinking more fluids and avoiding things that can dehydrate the body, such as being in a hot environment, exercising, drinking alcohol and caffeinated beverages, or using diuretic products. Severe cases of dehydration may require intravenous fluids. In some cases dehydration is a secondary condition caused by illness or medications taken for another illness. It is important for people to discuss their symptoms with their physician as medications may need adjusting in order to manage body fluid levels.
For acute neck pain and dehydration it is likely that drinking water and resting will help relieve the pain and allow muscles to relax. For chronic neck pain, drinking replacement fluids will help over time but may not have any immediate effect as the spinal discs need time to hydrate and the body needs time to flush out toxins and create new synovial fluid.
If you suspect that you are dehydrated, and you’re suffering from neck pain, it could be that the most cost-effective, safe, and natural neck pain remedy is a simple glass of tap water.