Few of us think twice when our neck hurts. It’s easy to think it’s simply a strained muscle, a pinched nerve, or we slept on it wrong. But there’s a type of neck pain that may not be so simple. In fact, it could mean you’ve had a heart attack.
You’ve probably heard that a numb feeling in your left arm is a common signal of heart attack. But more and more, heart attack victims (especially women) recall a pain in their neck just before the attack.
This is an easy signal to miss, as it’s common for our neck to hurt. And we traditionally think a heart attack causes pain in the chest. But Margie Latrella, an advanced practice nurse in the Women's Cardiology Center in New Jersey and coauthor of Take Charge: A Woman's Guide to a Healthier Heart, says women are less likely to feel chest pain during a heart attack. Instead, they are far more likely to feel twinges of pain and tightness in their neck and shoulder. And, yes, this pain can run down the left arm, creating the numb or painful sensation.
The reason you experience this painful sensation in the neck and not in the chest is that the heart sends pain signals up and down the nerves of the spinal cord. These signals head straight for the brain and radiate to nerves that run through the shoulder and neck.
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So how can you know if your neck and shoulder pain is more serious than a strained muscle or pinched nerve? If the pain comes from either of the latter, it will be acute pain that’s isolated in one very specific spot. However, pain from a heart attack will run along a line. It also won’t go away when you treat it with ice, heat, or a good massage.
Regardless of whether the pain comes from a heart attack or from a tight muscle, there’s one nutrient you need to take when you feel pain in your neck. It’s the common mineral magnesium. Dr. Michael B. Schachter, of the Schachter Center for Complementary Medicine, said a magnesium deficiency can cause all types of muscle problems, including back aches, neck pain, tension headaches, and jaw pain. And heart attacks.
Remember, the heart is a muscle. Without enough magnesium, the heart will contract too much, spasm, or tighten. The doctor calls it a heart attack. But it’s the heart’s response to insufficient magnesium. In fact, one study out of Wales found that you can cut your risk of heart attack by 50% just by taking sufficient magnesium (bowel tolerance up to 500 mg, twice daily).
There’s even some evidence that magnesium can keep you alive during a heart attack. Researchers at Leicester Royal Infirmary in England found magnesium reduced the death rate of heart attack patients. The doctors injected 2,316 heart-attack patients with either magnesium sulfate or saline. After 28 days, 24% fewer patients in the magnesium group died compared to the placebo group. It also reduced long-term heart-attack mortality (2.7 years) by 21%.
The researchers said that it was vital to administer the magnesium quickly (within three hours of onset of symptoms). The quicker you take the magnesium, the more likely you are to survive. So if you think there’s any chance you’re having a heart-related problem, take magnesium (up to 500 mg) immediately. It could save your life!
Your insider for better health,
Steve Kroening is the editor of Nutrient Insider, a twice-a-week email newsletter that brings you the latest healing breakthroughs from the world of nutrition and dietary supplements. For over 20 years, Steve has worked hand-in-hand with some of the nation's top doctors, including Drs. Robert Rowen, Frank Shallenberger, Nan Fuchs, William Campbell Douglass, and best-selling author James Balch. Steve is the author of the book Practical Guide to Home Remedies. As a health journalist, Steve's articles have appeared in countless magazines, blogs, and websites.
Latrella, Margie and Carolyn Strimike. Take Charge: A Woman's Guide to a Healthier Heart, (Dog Ear, 2009).
Woods, Kent L. and Fletcher, Susan. Long-term outcome after intravenous magnesium sulphate in suspected acute myocardial infarction: the second Leicester Intravenous Magnesium Intervention Trial (LIMIT-2). The Lancet, Vol. 343, April 2, 1994, pp. 816-19.