Acute Neck Pain

Acute neck pain most often occurs as a result of trauma, injury, or extreme tension. Car accidents that cause whiplash are a common trigger for pain in the neck, although whiplash can also occur as a result of a fall from a horse, a bike, or even an innocuous-looking dining chair. Engaging in contact sports may also lead to acute neck pain as repetitive mild trauma, and acute trauma, can occur leading to complications such as tears or inflammation of the brachial plexus, cracked ribs, including the cervical rib, dislocated joints, fractured vertebrae, and a host of other injuries. Complications from neck surgery can lead to acute onset of neck pain, and acute neck pain may occur during the healing process from successful cervical surgical procedures. The pain may be momentary, a twinge, or last for weeks until the tissues heal.

Acute Neck Pain from Activities

Certain activities, such as awkward sleeping positions or heavy lifting can exacerbate this pain and prolong recovery times. Tension can also cause acute neck pain as the muscles in the neck may cramp up, due to straining and a build-up of lactic acid. This then puts pressure on the nerves and blood vessels in the cervical area, with both neck pain, neck stiffness, headaches, shoulder pain, and reduced mobility occurring. Prolonged exposure to a draught, such as during sleep, can cause the muscles in the neck to tense, leading to acute neck pain and stiffness.

Spine Conditions causing Acute Neck Pain

Disc herniation is another cause of acute neck pain, and may develop from chronic low level pain into sharp and acute severe neck pain as a bulging disc herniates. Disc herniation can cause intense acute pressure on the nerves and blood vessels in the spine, causing problems of nerve transmission, and ischaemia (loss of circulation) to areas of the spine and the rest of the body. Decompression through surgery or traction may alleviate the acute neck pain and prevent it from becoming chronic neck pain. If a disc herniation, or slippage (spondylolisthesis) is suspected then medical attention should be immediately sought so as to minimize the potential nerve damage that can occur with this condition.

Acute Neck Pain Treatments

Treatments for acute neck pain will vary depending on the cause. Commonly, analgesics and NSAIDs will be used to control the pain. Alternative anti-inflammatories and pain-relievers may be favored by some sufferers, although generally these are more useful for chronic neck pain. Neck massages to relieve muscle tension may assist, and rest is appropriate in some conditions to allow the neck to heal itself without further strain. Cervical collars may be used in the short term for acute neck pain but should generally not be used for long periods as the neck muscles can atrophy with disuse. Surgical intervention is likely to be necessary in cases where a structural defect is responsible for the acute neck pain, such as in a disc herniation or a muscle tear of the brachial plexus. Avoiding the instrumental action in the aetiology of the neck pain is good practice, as are gentle neck strengthening exercises in order to minimize the risk of further occurrences of acute neck pain and to prevent it becoming chronic neck pain.