health articles

Neck Pain

Neck pain is a common problem that two-thirds of people will experience at some time1. Neck pain can develop due to muscle strain or tension, after an injury such as whiplash or due to chronic conditions including osteoarthritis.

Most neck pain is not serious and usually eases in a few days with simple treatment.

If your pain is causing problems and reducing your quality of life, the experienced doctors and physiotherapists at Virtually Healthcare can provide advice, investigation and treatment to relieve your discomfort.

What causes neck pain?

There are many causes of neck pain, and sometimes, frustratingly, it can be challenging to identify the thing that triggered your pain:

  • Muscle tension: Most neck pain is caused by simple muscle tension or strain. These can follow an accident or injury, or they may be triggered by poor posture. Working on a computer, sitting in a cold draft, or sleeping in an uncomfortable position can all increase tension in the muscles supporting the neck and cause pain.2
  • Cervical spondylosis: The spine’s bones, discs and ligaments get weaker as we get older. The discs are the soft tissue cushions between the spinal bones. They become thinner with increasing age, the spaces between the vertebrae narrows, making bony lumps called osteophytes develop. This makes it more difficult to move the neck.
  • Whiplash: Whiplash is a neck injury that happens when your head is suddenly forced backwards and then forwards. The rapid movement damages the tendons and ligaments that support the neck. This causes pain, stiffness and reduced neck movement. Car accidents cause most whiplash injuries, but assaults, falls, and sporting injuries can also result in sprains to the soft tissues supporting the cervical spine. Common whiplash symptoms include pain and stiffness in the neck that may go down into the shoulders and arms. You may also have a headache, problems moving your head and generally feeling tired, dizzy and unwell.
  • Slipped disc: The soft tissue pads between the vertebrae can bulge out, causing neck pain. Sometimes the bulging disc can press on a nerve root, causing pain, tingling and numbness in the shoulders and arms.

Neck pain treatment at Virtually Healthcare

Virtually Healthcare is a ground-breaking GP practice, providing expert care in the comfort, safety and privacy of your home. The Virtually Healthcare service is designed to fit with modern lives. Consultations are easy to access, discreet and convenient, with virtual appointments available seven days a week.

The highly skilled team includes more than 40 clinicians working together to investigate and treat disease and help you optimise your health and wellbeing. As well as GPs, the team includes physiotherapists and practice nurses to offer a comprehensive primary care service.

During the pandemic, many patients are finding it more difficult to access Healthcare. Virtually Healthcare provides rapid access video or telephone appointments, with consultations available the same day if you contact us before 3 pm. Our clinicians can provide professional assessment and advice, arrange investigations, prescribe treatment or arrange for a face-to-face review.

At Virtually Healthcare, our focus is on you. Our patients can make an appointment with one of our experienced physiotherapists without a GP referral. The physios can arrange scans and tests, if necessary. They will work with a Virtually doctor to arrange that a prescription is sent directly to your local pharmacy.

How to help yourself with neck pain

Most neck pain will settle in a few days. Self-help measures, physiotherapy and over-the-counter painkillers and anti-inflammatories can also help you manage your symptoms and improve your recovery:

  • Pain relief: Take regular paracetamol or over-the-counter anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen (if you can tolerate them.)
  • Massage: Gently massage your neck muscles to ease tension and reduce pain3.
  • Stay active: Try and continue with your daily activities, including work and exercise. Regular pain relief will help you keep moving. Long periods of rest can increase stiffness and make your pain worse.
  • Apply hot or cold compresses: A hot water bottle, wheat bag, ice pack or bag of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel can help ease pain, relax neck muscle spasm and offer relief from your symptoms.4
  • Pillow talk: A pillow that’s too hard or thick can make neck pain worse. Try and ensure your head is level with your body. Your pillow should support your head, and your neck should be supported and fill the hollow between your neck and shoulders.
  • Check your posture: Neck pain and stiffness can be caused by poor posture when standing, staying in the same position for prolonged periods and hunching over a computer. The physiotherapists at Virtually Healthcare can provide specific advice and guidance.
  • Don’t use a collar or support: It may seem sensible to get a neck collar to support your neck, but collars can reduce movement, increase stiffness and allow the muscles to weaken. Only use a collar if specifically told to do so by a medical professional.

Physiotherapy for neck pain

Virtually Healthcare has two physiotherapists as part of our multi-disciplinary team. Your time is valuable. Physiotherapists are specialists in treating muscle, bone and joint conditions, making them the best professionals to assess and treat your neck unless you have suffered an injury.

You can book an appointment with one of our physiotherapists without a GP referral. They have extensive experience and expertise in the evaluation and treatment of neck pain. They can:

  • Take a history of your pain and examine your neck to assess the cause of your problem.
  • Arrange investigations if necessary. However, most neck pain does not need an X-ray or MRI scan5.
  • Work with our GPs to prescribe painkillers or anti-inflammatory medication.
  • Recommend stretches and exercises to improve your mobility and help you get back to full fitness.
  • If your pain isn’t settling or they are concerned about your symptoms, they will arrange for your back to be reviewed by one of our doctors.

When to see a doctor with neck pain

Make an appointment with one of the doctors at Virtually Healthcare if your neck pain is severe and significantly affects your mobility and quality of life.

It’s imperative to seek urgent assessment and advice if you have had a whiplash injury and experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe pain that isn’t eased by over-the-counter painkillers
  • Pins and needles, numbness or tingling
  • Weakness developing in your arms or legs
  • Problems with walking
  • A sensation like an electric shock in your neck or limbs
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control

These could indicate a more serious injury. Call 111 or make an urgent appointment with a GP at Virtually Healthcare.

If you have neck stiffness together with fever, feeling unwell or having a headache, light phobia or rash, you should seek urgent medical attention to check you do not have meningitis.

Investigation and treatment of neck pain

Your doctor will talk to you about your symptoms and suggest investigation and treatment based on their expert assessment. This could include:

  • Self-care and lifestyle advice.
  • Pain relief or anti-inflammatories.
  • Referral for physiotherapy to strengthen the muscles and improve posture, movement and flexibility.
  • Referral to a hospital orthopaedic team for specialist investigation and treatment if necessary.
Hot topics in neck pain

How to prevent neck pain when working from home

One of Virtually Healthcare’s GPs, with a particular interest in bone and joint problems, reports on the questions and concerns that they are currently seeing in their consultations.

We’ve seen many more people complaining of neck pain during the pandemic. From our consultations, it appears to reflect the increase in home working, with too many patients working in uncomfortable positions that put pressure on your neck. This is reflected in research that found that four in five desk workers who switched to working from home have had back, neck or shoulder pain, with around a quarter affected most of the time6.

The wrong height table or chair and using a laptop instead of a desktop computer can affect your posture and increase tension in the muscles supporting your neck.

  • Don’t hunch: Looking down at a laptop screen can strain your neck and shoulders. Lift your laptop on a pile of books. Make sure the screen is in line with your eyes, and use a separate keyboard so that you’re no typing in mid-air!
  • Sit comfortably: Choose a chair with height adjustment so that you can get your posture perfect.
  • Move: Change position regularly. Alternate standing and sitting and take regular breaks.

Why is my neck problem affecting my shoulders?

Problems in the neck can often affect the shoulders too. It can be difficult to work out the root of the pain. Cervical spondylosis causes pain in the neck and shoulder area and pain going down into the arm. A slipped disc in the neck can also result in pain in your shoulder. Your clinician will take a careful history and examine you to ensure that they understand the underlying cause of your pain.7

Types of consultations we offer

We offer written, telephone and video consultations with a range of male and female clinicians from GPs, nurse practitioners, and primary care specialists such as physiotherapy.