The head and neck are complex structures composed of vertebrae, muscles, ligaments and nerves. With the human head weighing around 4-5 kg, it is important to maintain good posture and strength to avoid injuries in this area.
Anatomy of the head and neck
The neck contains many structures, including the cervical vertebrae, nerves, discs, spinal cord, jugular, veins, carotid arteries, oesophagus, larynx, vocal cords and muscles.
The joints in the cervical spine allow neck flexibility. You should be able to rotate your head almost 180 degrees, touch your chin to the chest, the back of your head to your upper back, and drop your ear to meet your shoulder.
Injuries may cause a limited range of motion, or pain during movement.
What causes head and neck pain?
There are many reasons for head and neck pain. The pain can be mechanical, chronic, radicular, or arise from specific cervical spine conditions.
Mechanical neck pain is a common condition. It can come from poor posture, muscle instability, depression, muscle strain, ligament sprains, sports, and repetitive movements.
Neck pain is chronic if it lasts longer than three months or keeps returning. Often, this can be due to spinal degeneration; such as osteoarthritis, arthritis or degenerative disc disease.
Radicular neck pain comes from irritation, traction, or compression of the nerve root in the neck. Tight muscles, herniated disc, a flare up of degenerative disc disease, and arthritic bone can all be causes of this nerve issue. Symptoms may include pain, weakness, or pins and needles in the arm.
- Cervical spine conditions
Cervical Arterial Dysfunction, cervical fractures and other cervical spine conditions can cause neck pain. These rare conditions would require immediate attention.
How can I look after my head and neck?
You can look after your head and neck by maintaining good posture. Performing regular exercises to strengthen and stretch your neck muscles can help, too.
Risk factors for neck pain
- Poor posture
- Weak neck muscle strength
- Repetitive movements
- Previous neck trauma
- Psychosocial factors such as anxiety/depression
Treatment of neck pain
Your GP will be able to give you an initial assessment and refer you for further treatment and scans if necessary. Your GP or Pharmacist may suggest you take over-the-counter pain medication.
Often you'd see a Physiotherapist who would be able to prescribe exercises and offer manual therapy. If physiotherapy is not successful or is unsuitable for the condition, surgery may be the next course of action.
Head and neck complaints
Neck pain complaints can range from mild to severe. The issue could be from ageing, a disease, or an injury.
Here are some common head and neck complaints:
- Herniated disc
- Pinched nerve
- Mental stress and strain
- Poor posture
- Muscle strain
Find out more about surgeries, and what’s involved in treatments for head and neck problems, by visiting our Patient Resource Centre.