Neck pain in women is a common complaint. Neck muscles can be strained from poor posture whether it’s leaning over your computer or hunching over your workbench. Osteoarthritis also is a common cause of neck pain. Rarely, neck pain can be a symptom of a more serious problem.
It is common for people to experience pain in the right side of the neck. Mostly the pain occurs due to a muscle strain or another benign cause. People can often treat their pain using home remedies and medications. But for severe or prolonged neck pain, it is best to consult a doctor.
The neck is a vital part of the human body, comprising spinal bones, muscles, and other tissue. Unlike some other crucial parts of the body, the neck is exposed and at risk of injury. The neck is also prone to straining because people move it constantly throughout the day. It is also common for a person to experience pain in areas, such as the shoulders, back, jaw, and head.
Your neck is made up of vertebrae that extend from the skull to the upper torso. Cervical discs absorb shock between the bones. The bones, ligaments, and muscles of your neck support your head and allow for motion. Any abnormalities, inflammation, or injury can cause neck pain or stiffness. Many women experience neck pain or stiffness occasionally. In many cases neck pain is caused by injury from a fall, contact sports, or whiplash. Mostly, neck pain in women isn’t a serious condition and can be relieved within a few days. But in some cases, neck pain can indicate serious injury or illness and require a doctor’s care. If you have neck pain that continues for more than a week, is severe, or is accompanied by other symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
Structure of a Human Neck
Your neck and back are made up of small bones called vertebrae. These are stacked on top of each other to form the spinal column. The spinal column supports your head and protects the spinal cord. This is the main structure which links the network of nerves throughout your body. Messages travel along this network sending sensations, such as pain, to your brain.
The top seven bones in the spinal column form your neck, and these are called the cervical vertebrae. The bones are linked together by facet joints. These are small joints between your vertebrae that, together with your neck muscles, allow you to move your head in any direction. Between the vertebrae are discs of cartilage. The discs act as shock absorbers and give the spine its flexibility. A slipped disc occurs when one of these discs slips slightly out of its natural position in the spine.
Just imagine, our neck holds up the weight of a bowling ball all day long. The bones at the top of your spine, along with your muscles and ligaments, support your head, which weighs about 11 pounds. It can be a delicate balance. Anything from sleeping wrong to bad posture can cause neck pain.
Causes of Neck Pain in Women
Your neck is flexible and supports the weight of your head, so it can be vulnerable to injuries and conditions that cause pain and restrict motion. Causes of Neck pain include:
• Muscle strains – Overuse, such as too many hours hunched over your computer or smartphone, often triggers muscle strains. Even minor things, such as reading in bed or gritting your teeth, can strain neck muscles.
• Worn joints – Just like the other joints in your body, your neck joints tend to wear down with age. Osteoarthritis causes the cushions between your bones (vertebrae) to deteriorate. Your body then forms bone spurs that affect joint motion and cause pain. Some medical conditions can also cause the vertebrae, discs, and other parts of the neck to break down. These conditions include inflammation, pinched nerves, cervical fractures, arthritis and cervical disc degeneration.
• Nerve compression – Herniated disks or bone spurs in the vertebrae of your neck can press on the nerves branching out from the spinal cord.
• Injuries – Rear-end auto collisions often result in whiplash injury, which occurs when the head is jerked backward and then forward, straining the soft tissues of the neck.
• Diseases – Certain diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis or cancer, can cause neck pain in women.
• Bad Sleeping position – The sleeping position that people adopt, the number of pillows that they use, and the firmness of the mattress can all affect how they feel waking up in the morning. Falling asleep with either a lack of support for the head or the neck out of alignment increases the likelihood of waking up with a sore neck.
• Stress and anxiety – Stress may cause the muscles to tighten. People often talk about holding tension in their neck and back, and they may feel pain from the excess strain.
• Acute torticollis – Torticollis is a medical condition in which the head becomes twisted to one side. It can be very painful to try to straighten out the head. In most cases it is due to minor ligament or muscle sprains in the neck, although exposing the neck to cold temperatures for an extended period could also be a cause. Torticollis often occurs overnight, meaning that a person will have no symptoms when they go to bed but will wake up unable to move their neck.
• Whiplash – Whiplash describes an injury to the neck where the head jolts forward and then back into place very quickly. The movement resembles the crack of a whip. People tend to think of whiplash in relation to car accidents, but it can also occur as a result of sporting activities and other sudden movements.
Symptoms of Neck Pain in Women
Neck pain is a symptom associated with dull aching. Sometimes pain in the neck is worsened with movement of the neck or turning the head. Other symptoms associated with some forms of neck pain include numbness, tingling, tenderness, sharp shooting pain, fullness, difficulty swallowing, pulsations, swishing sounds in the head, dizziness or lightheadedness, and lymph node (gland) swelling. Neck pain can also be associated with symptoms such as headache, facial pain, shoulder pain, and arm numbness or tingling. These associated symptoms are often a result of nerves becoming pinched in the neck. Sometimes continuing neck pain is a warning sign of head or neck cancer. Although it could also be a sign of another less serious condition, head and neck cancers might include a lump, swelling or a sore that doesn’t heal. The most common symptoms are:
• You may have tension headaches, where the pain can travel to the back of your head and sometimes into your ear or behind your eye.
• It may be painful to move your neck and your muscles may feel tight, especially if you’ve been sitting or sleeping in one position for a long time.
• You may notice that your neck won’t turn as far as it normally does, for example when you try to look over your shoulder while reversing the car.
• You may feel pain in the middle or on either side of your neck, but it may also extend to the shoulder or to the upper chest.
• You may have pain or weakness in your arms.
• If you feel dizzy when looking up or turning your head, this may be due to pinching of the arteries that run alongside the spine, also known as vertebral arteries. This can sometimes happen as a result of changes in the vertebrae. Pinching of these vertebral arteries can occasionally cause blackouts as the blood flow is temporarily reduced.
• Muscle tightness and spasms
Home Remedies to ease Women with a Neck Pain
If you have minor neck pain or stiffness, try these home remedies to relieve it:
• Apply ice for the first few days. After that, apply heat with a heating pad, hot compress, or by taking a hot shower.
• Take OTC pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
• Take a few days off from sports, activities that aggravate your symptoms, and heavy lifting. When you resume normal activity, do as slowly as your symptoms ease.
• Exercise your neck every day. Slowly stretch your head in side-to-side and up-and-down motions.
• Use good posture.
• Avoid cradling the phone between your neck and shoulder.
• Change your position often. Don’t stand or sit in one position for too long.
• Get a gentle neck massage.
• Use a special neck pillow for sleeping.
• Don’t use a neck brace or collar without your doctor’s approval. If you don’t use them properly, they can make your symptoms worse.
Treatment for Women with a Neck Pain
Your doctor might prescribe stronger pain medicine as well as muscle relaxants and tricyclic antidepressants for pain relief. Some therapies and surgery that can be performed are:
• Physical therapy – A physical therapist can teach you correct posture, alignment and neck-strengthening exercises, and can use heat, ice, electrical stimulation and other measures to help ease your pain and prevent a recurrence.
• Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation – Electrodes placed on your skin near the painful areas deliver tiny electrical impulses that may relieve pain.
• Traction – Traction uses weights, pulleys or an air bladder to gently stretch your neck. This therapy, under supervision of a medical professional and physical therapist, may provide relief of some neck pain, especially pain related to nerve root irritation.
• Short-term immobilization – A soft collar that supports your neck may help relieve pain by taking pressure off the structures in your neck. However, if used for more than three hours at a time or for more than one to two weeks, a collar might do more harm than good.
• Steroid injections – Doctor might inject corticosteroid medications near the nerve roots, into the small facet joints in the bones of the cervical spine or into the muscles in your neck to help with pain. Numbing medications, such as lidocaine, also can be injected to relieve your neck pain.
• Surgery – Rarely needed for neck pain, surgery might be an option for relieving nerve root or spinal cord compression.
Preventive Measures for Women with a Neck Pain
• Fix your posture to fix your neck pain.
• Sit or stand with your shoulders directly over your hips and your head straight.
• Adjust your chair or desktop so your computer monitor is at eye level.
• Take frequent breaks.
• Don’t tuck your phone between your ear and shoulder.
• Use a speakerphone or headset instead. Try not to carry heavy bags with shoulder straps.
• Try a different pillow if you’re waking up with a stiff neck. Some people find that a relatively flat one, or one with built-in neck support, works best.
• Sleeping on your back or side (not your belly) also allows your neck muscles and ligaments to get the rest they need.
• There are a number of neck exercises you can do during the day, either sitting or standing.