How To Avoid That Pain In The Neck  

Many clients come to our Ottawa physiotherapy and sports medicine clinics with a complaint of neck pain. Is it serious? Should I worry? There are many issues than can affect the neck area, so the first order of business is to work towards a diagnosis.

The neck is flexible, strong, and vulnerable, a complex structure made up of nerves, muscles, bone (the cervical spine,) ligaments and connective tissues, blood vessels, and more, all of it within a small, compact space. It's a true miracle of Mother Nature, but it's also no wonder that issues can arise. Up to 70 percent of North Americans will experience neck pain at some point in their lives. Here's a look at some of the most common causes for that persistent pain in the neck.

The key question is: what kind of pain are you experiencing?

Muscle Pain - This can be caused by prolonged or repetitive activities. Emotional stress can also cause you to tighten the neck muscles. You may notice certain spots - called trigger points - that feel like tough knots under the skin where pain is concentrated. Muscle strains can be caused by things you do everyday - such as hunching over your desk, computer screen, or mobile phone.

Muscle Spasms - You will definitely notice a spasm of the neck muscles - they will tighten suddenly, and so strongly that you may feel like you can't turn your head. It may also occur overnight, where you wake up to a very painful and stiff neck. You may also feel the muscles tighten in your neck and chest. There may or may not be an obvious underlying cause such as an injury or nerve issue.

Tension Headaches - Headaches where the pain is concentrated in the back of the head into the neck are often caused by the muscles at the base of the neck. You will experience a dull, throbbing kind of pain, often accompanied by a stiff neck.

Joint Pain - Worn structures in the neck vertebrae can cause a sharp pain in the facet joints. You may find that the pain becomes worse if you lean towards the side that hurts, and you may also feel it in your shoulder and upper back area. If it is due to arthritis, you will typically notice more pain when you wake up, or stand up after sitting or lying down for a period of time.

Inflamed Nerves - Nerves that are irritated or pinched in the cervical spine can cause pain that is quite sharp, and may only last momentarily. It may also be accompanied by numbness or pins and needles, with pain that may shoot down the arm to the hand.

Bone Issues - Pain in the bones of the cervical spine or the surrounding area isn't nearly as common as soft tissue problems. It may indicate a serious underlying problem, and should be looked after immediately.

Injuries - Auto collisions from the rear end can cause whiplash as the head is jerked back and forth. Some sports can also cause similar injuries. It is a strain on the soft tissues of the neck, and can cause damage.

Osteoarthritis – This degenerative condition can cause the cartilage cushions in the neck joint to be damaged and worn. Bone spurs will then form around them that can be painful as well as restrict movement.


Treatments and cures for neck pain depend entirely on the underlying causes. They might include treatment by one of our Ottawa physiotherapists or chiropractors, over the counter medications such as NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), massage therapy, and other measures as needed. After a thorough examination, treatment will be customized to your situation.


Preventing neck pain is a matter of taking some common sense measures.

  • Wear a seat belt while you're driving - it's the law in Ontario, and will also help prevent neck injuries.
  • Use the correct equipment, and make sure it fits properly, for any sport that you do.
  • Stay strong - a strong core, neck, and arm muscles can help prevent injuries and strains.
  • Proper form is crucial to whatever sport you fancy - not just for better results, but to prevent injury and strain of all kinds.
  • Keep moving - you want to be careful and not overdo it, but inactivity creates the kind of condition where strains and spasms are more likely to occur.
  • Good posture is essential both sitting and standing. Think of a straight line between your shoulders and your hips, with your ear directly over your shoulder.
  • Take breaks when traveling, working, or doing any other activity that causes you to sit in one position for any length of time.
  • Use equipment wisely - that includes setting up your computer screen at eye level, and using a headset or speakerphone rather than tucking your phone into your neck with your shoulder.
  • Invest in a good pillow and mattress, and make sure your neck and head are properly aligned as you sleep.

If you are experiencing a persistent pain in the neck or any other musculoskeletal injury or condition, our Ottawa physiotherapy and sports medicine specialists are ready to help you. Don’t hesitate to call one of our Ottawa physiotherapy clinics or drop by today to make an appointment.


Blog Archives