DR ELLIE CANNON: What caused my 24-hour pain in the neck?

DR ELLIE CANNON: What caused my 24-hour pain in the neck?

I have just recovered from a painful stiff neck that left me unable to turn my head for 24 hours. It’s still sore and stiff but I can move again. I don’t recall doing anything to cause it, and it’s not the first time it’s happened.

Neck pain is surprisingly common and often it’s not related to a single moment when an injury occurs.

Damage to the soft tissues can occur, and accumulate, over time until, eventually, pain and immobility are noticed.

Sleeping in a funny position, sitting at a desk for long periods and even smartphone usage – which involves bending the neck when sitting to look at the screen – are all associated with neck pain.

Neck pain (stock image) is surprisingly common and often it’s not related to a single moment when an injury occurs

The problem can be prevented by avoiding awkward or long-held movements. And at night, using a firm mattress and ensuring the head is at a similar level to the rest of the body should help: a low, firm pillow is better than a high stack.

In an office environment, regular neck exercises and movement out of static positions is key.

When pain arises, pain-relief gels such as ibuprofen are useful, as are heat gel packs.

Neck pain and stiffness that comes and goes in someone over 50 may be a condition called cervical spondylosis. This is caused by wear and tear, but it also occurs in people whose work requires repetitive neck movements or overhead work such as decorating. Treatment involves physiotherapy, neck exercises and pain-relief treatments.

Is acupuncture proven to benefit health, or is it just a placebo?

Acupuncture is derived originally from traditional Chinese medicine – so generally regarded as an ‘alternative’ therapy – but it does have a physiological basis of action, according to some studies, meaning that it is more than a placebo, particularly when used for pain.

Do you have a question for Dr Ellie Cannon? 

Email [email protected] or write to Health, The Mail on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT. 

Dr Ellie can only answer in a general context and cannot respond to individual cases, or give personal replies. 

If you have a health concern, always consult your own GP. 

Traditional acupuncture uses a system of energy flow and improving or correcting that flow with needles. This is not a concept backed up by any scientific evidence.

What we believe to be the case with acupuncture is that the needles trigger sensory nerves within the skin and muscles.

This dampens down pain controlling nerves and also leads to the release of pain-reducing chemicals known as endorphins.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence watchdog considers there to be good enough data to recommend acupuncture for certain headaches, particularly migraine.

Acupuncture is offered in Chinese ‘clinics’ on the high street for many conditions other than pain, and in these cases it is hard to say if there is any real effect beyond placebo.

Newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky (pictured) spoke last week about a fireball that engulfed the boat she and her family were aboard last June in Greece

Natasha’s girl and a trauma GPs can’t tackle   

Newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky spoke last week about a fireball that engulfed the boat she and her family were aboard last June in Greece.

The blaze, caused by a fuel leak, left her daughter Angelica, now nine, badly burned and scarred for life. Natasha, 46, a former Strictly winner, admitted: ‘I just kept on looking at her face, because that’s what was injured… and thinking about her wedding day.’

Scars, especially on the face, can be incredibly distressing. Severe-burns patients should be seen at a specialist hospital clinic, where efforts will be made to try to minimise the appearance of the scar. But after that, GPs are limited in what we can offer and many treatments are available only privately. The reason? Scars are often deemed a ‘cosmetic’ issue. But the truth is, the trauma of being disfigured runs far deeper that the skin, and patients really should be given more help.

Planning to spend time over the Bank Holiday weekend doing DIY? Do take care. Almost 5,000 Britons were hospitalised due to accidents with power tools last year. GP surgeries will be closed, so if you need urgent medical advice, call NHS 111. 

They also advise on dental emergencies and what to do if your child gets a mini egg stuck up their nose (honestly, I’ve seen this a number of times). They may direct you to a local minor injuries unit (MIU) or A&E. Pharmacies are open and can help with minor ailments. 

Lift weights (gently) to help you power through old age   

Doctors should start to look at muscle power as a measure of health in the elderly, according to the latest data.

Research presented at this year’s European Society of Cardiology showed that higher muscle power is linked to a reduced risk of dying from all causes.

Lifting weights (stock image) is not just for body-builders but for everyone heading into old age

But this is not about lifting the heaviest weights in the gym: power rather than strength is gained from repeatedly lifting moderate weights at speed. It is still not clear why muscle power specifically has such a strong protective effect against dying, although we know that muscles get weaker as we age and power is needed to get out of a chair, kick a ball and pick up shopping bags.

What is clear is that lifting weights is not just for body-builders but for everyone heading into old age.

What to do about watery, sore eyes   

This is a common condition and, paradoxically, caused most often by dry eyes – which can occur as a result of air conditioning, computer use and environmental pollution, as well as wind and dust.

Taking regular screen breaks at work and avoiding eye strain is important, and using a humidifier so the air is not so dry can help. Eye drops and gels from a pharmacy may also ease symptoms.

Allergies can also cause watery, sore eyes so it is safe and sensible to try an over-the-counter anti-histamine to see if that helps.

Ever wonder why we don’t notice when we blink?

We blink at least 10,000 times a day to lubricate the eyes. The retina, which captures images at the back of the eye and sends them to the brain, retains the last image it captured for up to a tenth of a second before replacing it with another. 

This means that when we blink and momentarily deprive the retina of light, there is a record of the last image when the eye opens again. This allows us to see in a continuous flow, rather than in split-second breaks. 

How much sugar lurks inside your favourite foods? 


Swap Waitrose Richly Fruited Hot Cross Buns, costing £1.69 for Tesco Finest Maple Syrup and Blueberry Hot Cross Buns, costing £1.50

HEALTH HACKS: Sing happy birthday to wash away germs  

Here’s a novel way, recommended by experts, to make sure you destroy disease-causing bacteria when you wash your hands: if you sing Happy Birthday, quite quickly twice, while you’re washing, you will clean hands properly, according to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

Scientists say that this amount of time – a full 20 seconds – is needed to ensure all germs are removed from the hands after using the toilet.

It is estimated that a fifth of Britons don’t wash their hands at all after doing their business, and a third don’t bother to do so before preparing food.

But a third of cases of diarrhoea and a sixth of respiratory infections could be prevented if people kept their hands clean, according to studies.

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