Neck pain or pain over the upper portion of the spine is a very common complaint among all groups including teenagers. Studies have shown that neck pain in teenagers and adolescents is one of the leading causes of disability among this age group and it drastically affects the participation of them in physical activities in school and personal lives. Neck pain is generally very mild among teenagers, but if left untreated it can affect the shoulder and back and can even lead to serious musculoskeletal disorders in adulthood. Neck pain and back pain are increasing among teenagers as they spend prolonged periods of time in hunched over posture while using electronic gadgets such as mobile phones, tablets, laptops etc. This is due to the increased demand for indoor sedentary activities and gaming than outdoor physical activities among this age group.
In majority of the cases, neck pain in teenagers is caused by muscle strain or inappropriate postures and not a very serious condition. However, in certain cases, neck pain in teenagers may be caused by serious issues and may require elaborate management.
Symptoms of Neck Pain in Teenagers
Neck pain in teenagers is characterized with the following symptoms:
- Pain and tenderness in the neck that predominantly worsens with neck and head movement.
- Muscle weakness, muscle spasms and muscle tightness in the cervical region.
- Limited range of motion of the neck.
- Radiating pain to head, shoulder and back.
Neck pain when associated with other conditions such as meningitis or Lyme disease, the following symptoms may be noted in addition to discomfort over the neck:
- Loss of appetite.
- Increased sensitivity to light.
- Other joint pain.
- Muscle weakness.
- Generalized weakness.
- Swollen lymph nodes.
Causes of Neck Pain in Teenagers
Possible causes of neck pain among teenagers include:
- Muscle Strain: It is the most common cause of neck pain. Muscle strain is usually caused by sudden neck movement or sprain in the neck. It is more common among teenagers who actively participate in activities such as sports, dancing etc.
- Injury: Neck pain in teenagers can also be caused after events such as motor vehicle accidents, physical fights, or falls causing trauma to the neck.
- Inappropriate Posture: Inappropriate posture of the neck and shoulder over a period of time can lead to neck pain in teenagers. Poor posture predominantly while working on computers, playing video games, slouching, sleeping, sitting, carrying heavy back packs to school increases the risk of neck pain.
- Nerve Compression: Conditions such as cervical disc herniation can lead to nerve compression causing pain in the neck of teenagers.
- Infection as a Cause of Neck Pain in Teenagers: Any underlying infection can cause inflammation of lymph nodes and glands within the neck. This can present itself as tenderness and pain over the neck.
- Underlying Conditions for Neck Pain in Teenagers: Neck pain can also be associated with underlying conditions such meningitis, tick borne diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, fracture etc.
- Other Causes for Neck Pain in Teenagers: Other rare causes include tumorous or malignant growth within the neck region, physical deformities, birth defects etc.
Diagnosis of Neck Pain in Teenagers
Neck pain usually resolves with home treatment or self-care; however, in severe cases intervention by an experienced physician is advised. A through case history is obtained followed by a physical examination. The neck is physically palpated to check for tenderness, stiffness, swollen glands etc. Also, neck movement is done to determine the range of motion. Specialized studies may be done for further evaluation and management. These include:
- Imaging Studies to Diagnose Neck Pain in Teenagers: – Such as x-ray, CT scan and MRI are conducted to evaluate any problems present in the neck.
- EMG: This is done to rule out nerve pinch and other nerve related disorder.
- Blood Tests: Infectious disorders and inflammatory conditions are detected by specialized blood test, such as Lyme titre, ANA antibody test, rheumatoid factor test etc.
Treatment of Neck Pain in Teenagers
Neck pain is managed by pain management specialist or an orthopedist. In specialized cases intervention by a rheumatologist and neurologist may be required. The treatment options for neck pain in teenagers includes:
- Oral Medications: Over-the-counter pain medications such as Aleve, Advil, and Tylenol etc. can be taken as needed to provide relief from neck pain in teenagers. In severe cases, in addition to anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants and tricyclic anti-depressants are prescribed.
- Topical Medications: A number ointments, gels, creams and sprays are available over-the-counter. These can help in providing symptomatic relief to the teenagers or anyone for that matter suffering from neck pain.
- Physical Therapy to Treat Neck Pain in Teenagers: Physical manipulation of the neck by an experienced physiotherapist can help in reducing the pain in the neck and can also help in improving the flexibility of the cervical spine.
- TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation): Electric impulses are delivered using electrodes for easing the neck pain in teenagers.
- Traction: Here the neck is stretched by an experienced professional using weights, pulleys and air bladders thereby reducing tension and relieving neck pain in teenagers.
- Immobilizing the Neck: A soft collar may be worn as instructed by a physician to provide adequate rest and support to the neck. This helps in easing neck pain in teenagers.
- Steroid Injections to Treat Neck Pain in Teenagers: In advanced cases, corticosteroid injection in the facet joint can provided significant benefit.
- Surgical Intervention: In rare cases, surgery may be required for management of nerve compression in the neck.
- Home Care for Neck Pain in Teenagers: Alternate application of heat compresses and ice application over the affected area provides symptomatic relief. Warm showers in the morning can help in improvement of neck stiffness.
- Alternative Medicine: Alternative medicine such as acupuncture, chiropractic therapy, and massage can also be considered to reduce neck pain in teenagers.
Easy Exercises for Neck Pain in Teenagers
It is advised to stay physically active and exercise on a regular basis to avoid neck pain. Physical activities help in maintaining the flexibility of the neck. A number of home exercises are recommended for improving neck pain. These include simple stretching followed by neck rolls and shoulder rolls. Gently rotate the neck, laterally, forward and backward. It is advised to take warm showers or do heat compresses prior to the exercises for better results. Special exercises may be recommended by the physician or physiotherapist based on the condition and requirement.
How to Prevent Neck Pain in Teenagers?
- Maintaining Appropriate Posture: It is advised to maintain the back and shoulder in right posture while standing and sitting. Slouching and hunching over increases the risk of neck pain. Maintaining correct posture while sleeping is also important.
- Taking Frequent Breaks to Avoid Neck Pain in Teenagers: It is advised to avoid activities such as watching television, working on computers, and using mobile phones and tablets for prolonged periods of time. One must take frequent breaks to provide adequate rest to the neck.
- Ergonomics: Computers and other electronic gadgets should be used keeping in mind the correct ergonomics. It is recommended to maintain the monitor at eye level, use a chair with good back support and maintain knees below the hip level with feet flat on the ground.
- Teenagers Must Use Headsets to Avoid Neck Pain: It is advised to use headsets and earphone while talking on phone for long hours to prevent neck strain.
- Quit Smoking: Smoking increases the risk of neck pain.
- Teenagers: It is advised to avoid heavy back packs while going to school. One can consider trolley bags instead.
Neck pain is a common disorder seen among teenagers. This is mainly because of increased use of smart phones, tablets, computers, etc. among this age group and carrying heavy back packs to schools. Lack of physical exercises and outdoor activities has also contributed to increase in neck pain. Mild to moderate neck pain resolves with home treatment, but in severe cases it is treated by a physician. Neck pain among teenagers is avoidable. Simple exercises with lifestyle modifications can bring about a lot of difference.
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