Neck pain may occur in isolation but it is also often accompanied by a variety of other symptoms. These range from shooting pains into the arms and hands to difficulties swallowing or even dizziness and nausea. How can you tell if something serious is causing your neck pain, rather than it just being an acute symptom of sleeping in a draughty room? What are your symptoms really telling you?
Things That Can Go Wrong In The Neck
The neck is a complex anatomical area, containing major blood vessels, nerves, the windpipe and oesophagus, the thyroid gland, lymph nodes, voice box, and the cervical spine. As such, even a small amount of swelling can put pressure on these structures and result in a variety of symptoms. What starts out as neck pain due to a sporting injury could result in inflammation that then affects the nerves innervating the head and face. Pain in the jaw, temples, or the rest of the head can all arise in conjunction with neck pain and neck injury.
Neck Pain and Other Symptoms
Where ear and neck pain occur together, alongside dizziness, a sensation of pressure in the head and ears, and a loss of balance (vertigo), patients may worry that they are developing Meniere’s disease, a balance disorder that can cause severe symptoms and disruption to daily life. However, pain in the neck is not normally a sign of this condition. Neck pain may develop in tandem with the disease though, as our bodies don’t simply incur conditions in isolation.
Cervical Spinal Cord Compression
Where neck and ear pain do arise alongside dizziness, pressure, and nausea this can be a sign of cervical spinal compression that is affecting both blood flow and nerve activity into the head. It is important to seek medical attention to establish the cause of the symptoms as there may be increasing pressure on the spinal cord from an infection such as meningitis, which can prove fatal or lead to permanent injury and paralysis.
Neck Pain and Posture
In other cases, the pain in the ear and face may be the cause of neck pain. This is because we tend to adopt a different posture when we feel unwell, hunching over in a more protective stance and thus altering the distribution of weight in the spine. Pain behind the eyes, or sinus pain that affects vision may also cause us to lean forward or peer forward towards a computer screen at work, or the TV at home, and this puts extra strain on the neck muscles and the spinal discs. Over time, this can even lead to disc degeneration and chronic neck pain.
Bruxism, Jaw and Neck Pain
Jaw pain and neck pain may also cause referred pain up into the ears and this can affect our sense of balance and proprioception (ability to locate one’s body in space). Those who wake up with jaw pain and neck pain may be grinding their teeth at night (bruxism) or sleeping in an unusual position that puts stress on the neck muscles. Wearing a mouth guard or using a different kind of neck pain pillow could help. It is also a good idea to consult a dentist and your physician as improper use of dental guards can actually make the problem worse.
Medications for Neck Pain and Ear pain
Some patients with headaches, neck pain, jaw pain and stress are recommended to begin a regime of low-dose antidepressants to treat the pain. These medications can have undesirable side effects and are unlikely to address the underlying problems. Instead, it may be preferable to focus on sources of stress (both psychological and physical) and to practice relaxation techniques including meditation and mindfulness.
Botox for Neck and Head Pain
Botox injections may actually be helpful for some people with headaches, sinus pain, neck pain and ear pain as treating the muscle tension in one place may then alleviate the stress elsewhere in the body. A less extreme option is a simply facial massage or cranial massage to help relax tension.
Combating Neck Pain and Other Symptoms
Other things to consider if you regularly go to bed with, and wake up with neck pain and ear pain is to ensure that the level of light in the bedroom is adequate for reading in bed, or that you don’t watch stressful TV prior to falling asleep. Staying hydrated is also important in preventing this kind of pain, as is learning to relax your jaw if you find that it is often tense. When pain starts interfering with sleep it can create a vicious cycle as the body is not given ample opportunity to heal properly. In such cases, sleeping tablets or natural sleep aids may be helpful to break the cycle.
There are some serious conditions that can trigger neck and ear pain and so it is important to seek medical attention, especially if you are running a fever, have chest pain and breathlessness, or if the symptoms are chronic.