Neck Pain (Acute & Chronic)

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.

Neck 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:

  • Damage to the muscles, tendons, or ligaments
  • Herniated disk in the neck
  • Arthritis, such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Cervical (neck) disk degeneration
  • Problems of the vertebrae and bones present at birth (congenital)
  • Tumors

What are the symptoms of neck pain?

Neck pain may feel: 

  • Tender
  • Sharp
  • Stiff
  • Burning or tingling

Sometimes other symptoms occur along with neck pain, such as headaches or weakness in your arm or hand. 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) and nerve conduction studies. These tests are done together to evaluate nerve function.
  • X-ray. This is a test that uses electromagnetic energy beams to make images of bones.
  • MRI. This procedure uses large magnets and a computer to make detailed images of organs and structures within the body without the use of X-rays. MRI can often identify damage or disease of internal structures within a joint or in a nearby ligament or muscle.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan. This is 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
  • Exercise
  • Massage therapy
  • Surgery

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Treatment for neck pain is advised to prevent any future injury or damage. Neck pain linked to changes in bowel or bladder function, weakness, or loss of sensation can be a sign of serious injury to the nerves. It should be evaluated right away.

Key points about neck pain

  • Neck pain can range from mild discomfort to disabling, chronic pain.
  • Neck pain can result from many different causes, including injury, age-related disorders, and inflammatory disease.
  • Getting medical advice as soon as possible after the injury will help minimize future damage and inflammation.
  • Once you've been treated for the initial injury, you may need a program of physical rehabilitation. It's important to follow through with your program and exercises to both build and strengthen muscles that support your activities.
  • Using good body mechanics may prevent future injury.


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