Neck pain is common, especially in older people. Many of the causes of low back pain Low Back Pain The lower (lumbar) spine allows your body to turn, twist, and bend. It also gives strength for standing, walking, and lifting. The lower back is involved in almost all movement. Pain in the... read more can also cause neck pain. Damage to your bones, muscles, or ligaments (short, tough bands of tissue that hold your bones together at a joint) can cause neck pain. Damage to your nerves or spinal cord can also cause neck pain.
Most neck pain is caused by sprains and strains—this pain gets better on its own
If you have neck pain and have lost strength or feeling, see a doctor right away
You can usually ease your neck pain with medicines (such as acetaminophen) and by not doing things that stress your neck
When should I see a doctor for my neck pain?
See your doctor right away if you have neck pain and any of these warning signs:
Loss of strength in your neck, or in one or both of your arms or legs
Numbness in one or both of your arms or legs
Tiredness or confusion
Chest discomfort or feeling like you can't catch your breath
Pain that happens or gets worse when you exercise
Problems with swallowing
See your doctor within a day if you have severe neck pain that isn't relieved by medicines, such as acetaminophen or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). NSAIDs include ibuprofen and naproxen, among others.
If you have neck pain without warning signs, you can wait a few days or call your doctor to talk about how soon you should be seen.
What causes neck pain?
The most common cause of neck pain is:
Muscle strain or ligament sprains
Other common causes include:
Osteoarthritis Osteoarthritis (OA) Arthritis is a group of diseases that makes your joints hurt, swell up, and turn red. There are many different types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. In osteoarthritis... read more (when the protective tissue at the ends of bones wears away)
Cervical spondylosis Cervical Spondylosis Cervical spondylosis is degeneration of the bones in the neck (vertebrae) and the disks between them, putting pressure on (compressing) the spinal cord in the neck. Osteoarthritis is the most... read more (wear and tear on your vertebrae and disks, which is common as you age)
Torn or herniated (bulging) disk in your spine (the disk presses against the nerve root and causes pain)
All-over body pain (such as occurs in fibromyalgia Fibromyalgia Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes you to have pain and tenderness all over your body, extreme tiredness, and sleep problems. You may have pain, stiffness, or achiness throughout your body... read more ) may also affect the neck
Less common causes that are serious:
A tear in the lining of the neck artery (dissection)
What will happen at my doctor visit?
Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and health history and do a physical exam.
Usually, no tests are needed. In certain cases, doctors may do:
Electromyography and nerve conduction studies Electromyography (EMG) and Nerve Conduction Studies Your brain tells your muscles what to do by sending electrical signals to them. The signals travel down your spinal cord and then through different nerves to your muscles. EMG and nerve conduction... read more
How do doctors treat neck pain?
Treat the cause of your neck pain
Suggest you take pain medicines, such as acetaminophen or an NSAID
Apply heat or cold to the painful area—cold is best during the first 2 days after an injury, then use heat
Have you avoid activities that cause your neck pain
Have you do physical therapy Physical Therapy (PT) Physical therapy, a component of rehabilitation, involves exercising and manipulating the body with an emphasis on the back, upper arms, and legs. It can improve joint and muscle function, helping... read more , which includes stretching and strengthening exercises
How can I prevent neck pain?
Exercise, including muscle-strengthening and stretching exercises
Keep your back straight when standing and sitting
Sleep on your back or side with your head supported, but not raised
Don't stand or sit for long periods