Neck pain occurs when there are certain changes in the cervical vertebra of the spine. As age advances, there occurs wear and tear of the tissues surrounding the cervical spine. Worsening age-related neck pain is a common problem in many. Let us understand its causes and the remedies for it.
Medically termed cervical spondylosis, is the natural wearing down of the cartilage, ligaments, disks, and bones in the cervical region.1 This results in neck pain, stiffness, and difficulty in neck movement and can also cause nerve compression.
Causes of Worsening Age-Related Neck Pain
Neck pain can occur due to various causes that include poor posture, neck strain, injuries, sporting, and occupational activities, anxiety and depression.2 However, when mechanical factors like age-related wear and tear are involved, it usually results in chronic neck pain. This is often seen in cervical spondylosis. It is considered the main cause of worsening age-related neck pain.
In cervical spondylosis, degenerative changes begin in the intervertebral discs of the cervical vertebrae. This triggers a series of processes that can advance with increasing age.
Here are some of the causes of worsening age-related neck pain.
- Degeneration – As the cartilage wears down, over a period the intervertebral discs become thinner and the surrounding soft tissues lose their elasticity. These are the common changes that may begin during middle age and continue to advance. Some people start experiencing pain at this stage which can worsen gradually.
- Osteophytes – As the degeneration of the spine continues, the vertebrae begin to rub against each other. This can cause worsening age-related neck pain. With this rubbing of bones, abnormal bone growth called bone spurs or osteophytes may develop along the ends of the vertebrae.
- Disc Herniation – With continued degeneration due to normal aging, the tissues get thinner and weaker. The intervertebral disc can bulge out through the spaces between the discs and cause severe pain.
- Nerve Compression – Tightened neck muscles, bone spurs, and herniated or bulging discs can exert pressure on the tissue or a nerve causing nerve compression symptoms. These include sharp shooting pain or dull aching neck pain, radiating pain along the arm, and tingling and numbness in the arms, hand, or fingers.3 This can further cause worsening age-related neck pain.
Some of the symptoms of worsening age-related neck pain include neck pain or stiffness, soreness in the neck and shoulder region, difficulty or pain when moving the neck, tense muscles around the neck and shoulders, headaches, and dizziness on moving the neck.
Aging is believed to be an important factor in worsening neck pain. A recent 2022 study states that neck pain can occur at any age but is more common in adults. According to the report, the prevalence of neck pain peaked during middle age and further declined, with the maximum complaints noted in age groups of 45 to 49 in men and 50 to 54 in women.4
Remedies for Worsening Age-Related Neck Pain
While age-related neck pain can worsen with increasing age, certain measures can help in controlling the pain. Although the degenerative process cannot be completely stopped, the condition can be managed well with the right diet and lifestyle choices, regular exercise, and medical management. Also, the symptoms of worsening age-related neck pain can be reduced with some remedies, physical therapy, medicines, and regular medical advice.
Some of the remedies that can be beneficial to manage worsening age-related neck pain include the following.
Hot or Cold Fomentation
Hot fomentation is a wonderful remedy for worsening age-related neck pain, particularly for chronic pain with tense muscles. Having a warm shower, or using a warm compress may be beneficial to relieve the painful muscles around the neck and the shoulders. However, for many people, during acute pain, cold fomentation works best to relieve inflammation and reduce pain and swelling. It is best to seek medical advice and follow the given instructions.
Physical therapy is considered one of the best remedies for worsening age-related neck pain. Specific therapeutic exercises and stretches are aimed at strengthening the muscles and the surrounding tissues. The therapist also guides on improving the posture, and proper ways to lift objects and advises on any restriction of activities f the pain is severe. Physical therapy for worsening age-related neck pain may also include the use of therapeutic modalities like ultrasound, and nerve stimulation depending on the condition and the symptoms.
A 2017 study reports that physical therapy proved beneficial for seniors who had recurrent headaches associated with neck pain and dysfunction.5
It is done under the guidance of the treating doctor and the therapist guides on the duration of the therapy, how often the exercises should be done and how to progress in a graded manner to gradually improve the condition.
Neck Collar Or Brace
In some cases, particularly when the neck pain is more severe, doctors advise a neck collar to restrict the movement of the neck. This gives time for the strained neck muscles to relax and slowly heal and it is one of the remedies for worsening age-related neck pain. However, do not wear the neck collar for long as it can result in weakness or wasting of muscles. After the initial crucial phase is over, neck strengthening exercises should begin and gradually the need for using the brace will reduce.
Depending on the severity of the neck pain and associated symptoms, doctors may prescribe medications to reduce pain and swelling and relieve muscle spasms. In some cases that do not respond well to medication, the doctors may advise injections.
Maintaining a balanced diet and lifestyle can help in reducing pain episodes. A diet rich in proteins, whole grains, healthy fats, and plenty of water can help maintain good health and hydration. It is important to maintain a healthy weight and restrict or modify activities that put excess strain on the neck muscles. Regular physical activity to stay fit and follow therapeutic neck exercises is necessary. Yoga too can help relieve age-related neck pain but is best performed only under the guidance of an expert.
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