Serious Neck Pain and Stroke Symptoms

In many ways, the human neck is an amazing body part. The human head is heavy, and it’s supported by the strength of the neck, but the neck must also be flexible enough to tilt and turn and allow full motion of the head. It’s understandable that people feel tension in their necks, which are doing a lot of complex work.

In fact, neck tension and neck pain are among people’s common complaints. A vast majority of the time, pain in the neck is not something to worry about and will often resolve on its own. There is, however, one rare exception: when an artery in the neck tears, it can cause a stroke. This problem, which is known as a cervical artery dissection, occurs in only about two out of every 100,000 people annually, but it is among the most common causes of a stroke in people under the age of 50.

The cervical arteries are the blood vessels in the neck that carry blood to the brain; individually, they are the carotid artery and the vertebral artery. If the lining of one of these blood vessels tears, this is a cervical artery dissection. When a cervical artery tears, it can allow blood to leak into the wall of the artery and form a blood clot. If this blood clot blocks blood flow in the artery, or if it breaks off and travels to the brain, it will cause a stroke.

Cervical artery dissections are more common in people under 50 than in older people for two main reasons. The primary reason is that younger adults are more likely than older adults to engage in the type of vigorous exercise that can lead to a tear in the cervical artery. High-intensity fitness programs may involve strenuous neck movements, regardless of the type of exercise being performed. Cervical artery dissections have been seen following weight lifting, aggressive dancing, and even yoga. The less common reason for younger adults to experience cervical artery dissection is simply that some people have connective tissue disorders, which are congenital, that increase the likelihood of their arteries tearing, which is more likely to occur at a younger age. In older people, other types of strokes are more likely, though cervical artery dissections can still occur in older people.

While this is far less common, it is also possible to dangerously hyperextend the neck while leaning back to have the hair washed at a hair salon, believe it or not. There aren’t many cases of this cause for cervical artery dissection, but there are enough to have given the experience a name: beauty parlor stroke syndrome. Your stylist should have a neck extension, which is a cushion that supports your head and prevents neck strain; don’t be afraid to ask for one at your next visit to the salon.

Cervical artery dissection can occur following car accidents where people sustain whiplash. While rare, cervical artery dissection can also follow a manipulative therapy or adjustment. This therapy is used by chiropractors and other health professionals to relieve neck pain and is characterized by jarring, abrupt movements of the head and neck. It is unclear, however, whether the arterial tear is caused by this manipulative therapy, or whether pain caused by a tear may lead people to seek manipulative therapy.

The pain associated with cervical artery dissection is specific and persistent. Pain from a tear in the carotid artery tends to spread along the side of the neck and up to the outer edge of the eye. Pain from a tear in the vertebral artery often feels like there is something sharp stuck in the base of the skull. Both types of pain are usually accompanied by a severe headache, and other symptoms may also be present. Stroke symptoms include dizziness, uncontrollable eye movements, blurred or double vision, slurred speech, and instability while walking. If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911 without delay.

What Can Cause Neck Pain