Woman sitting at desk holding neck
Woman sitting at desk holding neck
Woman sitting at desk holding neck

Neck Pain and Problems

What is neck pain?

Due to its location and range-of-motion, your neck is often left unprotected and at risk for injury. Neck pain can range from mild discomfort to disabling, chronic pain.

What causes neck pain? 

Many different things can cause neck pain including injury, age-related disorders, and inflammatory disease. Causes of neck pain and problems may include:

  • Injury (damage to the muscles, tendons, or ligaments)

  • Herniated disk in the neck

  • Arthritis (such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis)

  • Cervical (neck) disk degeneration

  • Congenital (present at birth) abnormalities of the vertebrae and bones

  • Tumors


Neck pain may feel: 

  • Tender

  • Sharp

  • Stiff

  • Spasmodic

  • Burning or tingling

Sometimes other symptoms occur along with neck pain such as weakness in your arm or hand, or headaches. Pain can also spread to your back.

How is neck pain diagnosed?

Along with a complete medical history and physical exam, diagnostic procedures for neck pain may include:

  • Blood tests. These tests can help diagnose underlying inflammatory disease.

  • Electromyogram (EMG). A test to evaluate nerve function.

  • X-ray. A test that uses electromagnetic energy beams to make images of bones onto film.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A procedure that uses large magnets and a computer to make detailed images of organs and structures within the body. MRI can often identify damage or disease of internal structures within our joints, or in a surrounding ligament or muscle.

  • Computed tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan). An imaging procedure that uses X-rays and computer technology to make images of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.

How is neck pain treated?

Treatment may include:

  • Medicine (to reduce inflammation and control pain)

  • Rest

  • Physical therapy

  • Osteopathic manipulation

  • Neck brace or immobilization

  • Exercise

  • Massage therapy

  • Surgery

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Treatment for neck pain is recommended when the pain starts to prevent any future injury or damage. 

Key points about neck pain

  • Neck pain can range from mild discomfort to disabling, chronic pain.

  • Neck pain can result from many different causes--from injury, to age-related disorders, or inflammatory disease.

  • Seeking medical advice as soon as possible after the injury will minimize future damage and inflammation.

  • Once you have been treated for the initial injury, a program of physical rehabilitation may be necessary. It is important to follow through with your program and exercises to both strengthen and build muscles to support your activities.

  • Using good body mechanics may prevent future injury.

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