Patients suffering from neck pain are frequently seen in physiotherapy practices and are one of the most common clinical presentations. Patients suffering from headaches, although less common, are also often seen. Pain is usually caused by local structures within or around the head or neck, or may occasionally be referred from other sources (such as the upper back, jaw or shoulders).
Sudden onset neck pain often occurs in individuals involved with contact sports, motor vehicle accidents, heavy lifting, bending forward or sideways, twisting of the neck, or combinations of these movements. It is also relatively common for patients to experience sudden onset neck pain during a trivial bending movement, such as a sneeze. These acute injuries usually involve tearing of connective tissues around the joints of the neck and often have associated muscle spasms. One of the most common causes of sudden onset neck pain (with or without pain radiating into the upper back, shoulder, upper arm, elbow, forearm, wrist or hand or headache), is a Cervical Disc Bulge. Facet Joint Sprains can also be responsible.
Gradual onset neck pain often occurs in those patients involved in computer work, repetitive or prolonged bending, slouching (especially when sitting or during sleep), lifting and twisting movements, or combinations of these activities. One of the most common causes of gradual onset neck pain (either with or without pain extending into other parts of the body, including the head), is a Cervical Disc Bulge. In older patients with gradual onset neck pain, one of the most likely causes of symptoms is degenerative changes in the spine (i.e. arthritis of the neck).
There are numerous other causes of head and neck pain, some of which present suddenly due to a specific incident and others which develop gradually over time.
Below are some of the more common causes of head and neck pain with a brief description of each condition to aid diagnosis. Conditions have been organised according to sudden or gradual onset and common or less common conditions for ease of use.
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