Neck pain turning head is a common patient complaint, which describes symptoms which appear, or worsen, when the head is rotated side to side.
Being that movement elicits pain, this is usually caused by some variety of mechanical neck pain, meaning that symptoms result from the movement of one structure against another.
However, this is not an absolute rule.
This discussion concentrates on exploring why turning the head side to side might cause, or exacerbate, pain.
We will detail the reasons why pain exists and assist patients in understanding their diagnosis.
Neck Pain Turning Head Symptoms
Symptoms of rotational neck pain are case-specific, but usually include any or all of the following expressions:
Pain may occur when head is turned in only one direction or may occur if the patient looks to either side.
Pain may also occur if the neck is flexed or extended, meaning symptoms appear when the patient looks up or down.
Pain may be localized or may radiate into surrounding areas of the back or shoulder.
Some patients might suffer symptoms in the upper or lower extremities from rotating the head. In these instances, symptoms are virtually guaranteed to be unilaterally expressed.
Patient might find that repeated movement slowly dissipates symptoms, or the opposite, in that repetitive movement exacerbates the pain ever worse.
Neck Pain Turning Head Causes
Neck pain experienced when turning the head side to side can come about from a great number of known causes or might be idiopathic in origin. Here are some possible explanations for these types of painful expressions:
Arthritis in the neck can affect the vertebral bodies or spinal joints. This deterioration of the spinal structures can cause true mechanical pain, since bone spurs will often prevent smooth and fluid motion of the cervical vertebrae. Time may grind down offending osteophytes or might make the condition worse. Arthritic change is a primary source of central spinal stenosis, but these conditions rarely involve rotational symptoms.
Cervical disc pathologies might increase pressure on neurological tissues when the head is rotated. This is most often seen with focal posterolateral disc protrusions which increase pressure on a spinal nerve root upon rotation to a specific side.
Muscular injury or tension is the most common cause of neck pain. Muscular pain might be unilateral, or bilateral, and can be unbearably severe in some instances. The good news is that when anatomically motivated, neck muscle pain usually resolves quickly and without formal treatment. Chronic muscle pain is rarely the result of a purely anatomical issue.
Muscular interaction slightly lower in the anatomy can cause thoracic outlet syndrome. This is almost always experienced unilaterally and during specific ranges of motion. The most logical cause is interaction between the nerves of the brachial plexus and the scalene muscles. This is a common cause of neck and upper back symptoms, particularly when they exist on one side of the body.
Neck Pain Turning Head Summation
In my more recent experience, I had times when turning my head would bring on neck pain, but I endured many more times when looking downwards would exacerbate my lower back pain.
It seems that rotational force can play havoc with almost any type of spinal or muscular pain condition in the upper dorsal anatomy.
I always recommend that patients do their best to analyze their symptoms; including how and when they occur. The more information you can provide your physician, the better your chances for achieving an accurate diagnosis.
However, I caution patients not become obsessed with how and when symptoms appear, since this is also a good way to suffer a terrible nocebo effect, which typically leads to activity avoidance and subsequent functional disability.
Statistics show that most cases of neck pain are not due to any serious spinal causation. There may or may not be anatomical issues which are wholly or partially responsible for pain upon turning the head, but most will work themselves out with time alone.
Be cautious of pursuing drastic and premature therapy for any type of neck pain, since the negative effects of some types of treatment can be far worse than the original pain might ever become.
3/4/13 Revised 8/29/13
Please Recommend this page: