Dear Ask The Doctor: At times, I feel a neck pain, it can happen either on the right or left side of the neck or around those areas, it depends. Never on the back though, it's always in the front of my neck, it feels as if it's around my throat area. Not exactly there, but around it. It is not a muscular pain, it almost feels as if it's something related to the arteries or something... It's not easy to explain. Because I feel the pressure there higher than normal. This mainly happens a while after I eat and it's been happening for 1 or 2 years now. There are times when this doesn't happen very often and other times when it happens more frequently, it's not a consistent thing. I feel my anxiety levels raised when this happens, even if I was not anxious about anything in particular. I have thought about hypertension, high blood pressure, high cholesterol... Even diabetes or something related to the thyroid. Accumulated stress could be an option too, but that would reflect on a muscular pain in the back of the neck, right? I haven't seen a doctor about this yet and I was wondering if this could be something serious that should be checked. Thanks in advance!
Dear Mariana: Many different stresses may cause neck pain. Some causes are: whiplash from a car accident, poor posture causing misalignment of the head, neck and shoulders; wear and tear over the years causing arthritis; and age. Such activities can aggravate neck pain: sleeping on 2 or more pillows where your head is at an angle; reading in bed; poor posture while gaming (i.e. X-Box, Playstation); and prolonged stress while working at the computer. Whatever your reason for neck pain, a physical therapist can help you recover quickly, teach you good habits, teach you exercises to strengthen your neck muscles to prevent reoccurrences to reduce ongoing pain or stiffness. What can you do for neck pain? First, seek your doctor for a thorough evaluation and obtain a diagnosis. Second, stay active. Try to keep up with your normal activities, bed rest is not necessary. If you are given a neck collar try not to wear it longer than 1-2 days. After this period should you use it only if your head feels heavy and your neck feels like it can’t hold up your head; even then it should only be for short durations (i.e 30-45min). When your neck hurts, the goal is to keep your spine in a neutral position. Avoid bending your head forward or off to the side. Rest is necessary for short periods. However, remember you want to try to keep active. It is just as important to allow your neck to rest. If your neck gets tired, the muscles will stiffen as a result. Avoid resting with too many pillows. Try to fill in the gap of the back of the neck and the bed with a pillow preferably with a memory foam one or if that is not tolerated, a down pillow can be formed under the neck and head.