Neck Pain

The Borneo Post - Sunday, 23 June 2002


Considering that the neck is where paramedics take pulses and guillotines take lives, it's no surprise that guarding it is a matter of life and death. But our neck is like the head's caddie - carrying a big load, but rarely getting any credit. Not only does your neck support your five-kilo noggin, it also houses the organs, arteries and glands that funnel air to your lungs, transports oxygen to your brain and keeps you from choking on chicken wings.

In fact, the only time you do pay attention is when you experience one of those nagging, everyday pains in the neck - like when you have a sore throat or choke yourself when drinking or eating. Here, experts advise some simple remedies to take care of those little pains, as well as some of the more serious ones.

Pain in the Neck #1

STIFFNESS - Can't turn your head when you wake up in the morning? You could have one of these:

A strain. These are usually caused by sleeping in an awkward position, which puts tension on your occipitonuchal muscle (the ones along the back of your neck). To loosen them and reduce the pain, stand under a hot shower for five minutes with the water hitting the nape of your neck. Then press your chin to your chest and hold for half a minute. Extend your head back (eyes to the shower head), hold, then flex forward again. Now roll your neck from side to side a few times. Doing this every morning should help heal mild strains.

Whiplash. Technically, whiplash is a severe strain that occurs when your neck flexes forward and is quickly jerked backwards. If you suffer this kind of injury however minor - in a rear-end car accident, head for a h o s p i t a I immediately. Have a checkup by a medical doctor could save you months of recurring neck and back pain, as well as headaches.

Pain in the Neck #2

SORE THROAT - A sore throat is usually caused by an infection in the lymphoid tissue on the sides of your throat. But if you regularly wake up with a painful and dry throat, something sneakier is probably happening - you could be sleeping with your mouth open. When you breathe through your mouth, you inhale dry, throat-irritating air.

The fix:
Prop your head higher than your stomach when you sleep. This helps you breathe more easily through your nose, which acts as a natural humidifier. If you still wake up sore, put a humidifier in your bedroom.

Pain in the Neck #3

LARYNGITIS - Severe hoarseness is usually brought on by an infection, swollen or dry vocal cords or even coughing too hard. (Coughing can
rupture blood vessels on your cords.)

The fix:
Firstly, if you
have to take any medication, take ibuprofen, not aspirin. If you have broken blood vessels, aspirin will interfere with blood clotting and increase the time it takes the vessels to heal. Secondly, gargle with warm, salty water (cold water is an irritant); and thirdly, stop talking. And don't whisper - it puts more strain on your voice than talking quietly.

Pain in the Neck #4

SWOLLEN GLANDS - The soft, pea-size glands under your jawbone are lymph nodes. If they swell to the size of a golf ball and feel sore, you may have virus or a tooth infection (or you could have swallowed a golf ball). They swell because they fill themselves up with infection - fighting cells called lymphocytes that keep the infection from spreading to the rest of your body.

The fix:

If you have an infection, do these three things: throw away your toothbrush (viruses will linger there and delay your recovery); suck on hard lollies to stimulate saliva, which soothes sore throats; and eat spicy food - chilli contains capsaicin, which helps you secrete more liquid to expel the virus. If your nodes are larger than a marble or they don't go back to their normal size within a month, go for a check-up.


CLOGGED CAROTIDS - The four carotid arteries are responsible for carrying oxygen-rich blood from your heart to your brain. You won't feel any symptoms with mild clogs, but the more blocked your arteries get, the greater the chance you could experience a Transient ischaemic attack (TIA) - a kind of mini stroke - in which you lose vision, get weak or become dizzy for five to 15 minutes - and a warning to see a doctor about lowering your cholesterol levels or unclogging your carotids through angioplasty or surgery.

THYROID CANCER - Thyroid gland regulates your body temperature and metabolism. To check for thyroid problems, look in a mirror, swallow and watch for a lump. The lump will probably feel like a cherry. That's a thyroid nodule - benign in 95 percent of cases, but it should be checked to rule out thyroid cancer.

A BROKEN NECK - A broken neck will heal like any other bone fracture - with time and stabilisation. But the reason it's dangerous is because a fractured vertebra can split your spinal cord and sever the nerve signals that control your diaphragm and cut off your breathing. And if the injured bone penetrates the front of your spinal cord, it can also result in paralysis.